Facebook groups are pretty hit-and-miss. I won’t join writer groups anymore because they’re so toxic, and even my reader groups have their rough moments. But one group that has never failed me is Monsters, Demons, & Knotting, Oh My!
This isn’t a group for everybody. It’s not a group for the overwhelming majority of people. This group began as an Omegaverse reader group (which isn’t my jam at all, but YKINMKBYKIOK) before morphing into a group devoted to the wide world of Weird Penis erotica.
I’ve gotten some great books from this group. Strange Love wasn’t at all sexy to me, but I’ll recommend it for all of eternity because it was adorable. A Lady of Rooksgrave Manor is a delightful monster fuck-fest. Iriduan Test Subjects is an incredibly well developed series that I meant to write a recommendation for but I don’t think I ever did. This is my recommendation.
The thing about this group, if it’s not abundantly obvious, is it’s not like we’re in it because we’re looking for literary quality, profound content. All three of those books I just mentioned have professional covers and are of roughly the same quality as anything traditionally published, but that’s not always the case, and it’s not an automatic turn-off if the book is obviously a bit homegrown. So when The Last Hour of Gann was recommended and it came with this cover, I figured I’d be getting a quick smut piece with a mediocre edit and some hilariously weird peen, and I was for it.
I knew immediately that I was wrong. It starts out tragically: a dystopian future where everything is stacked against the neediest members of the population (like, worse than reality, I promise), and two young women grieving over the loss of their mother while also having to figure out the least nightmarish course of action. They will be evicted, and their options amount to prostitution, slavery, or leaving Earth in an experimental ship in the hopes that they’ll survive the trip to colonize another planet.
I can’t stress enough that every element of this is tragic. The main character, Amber, is overweight and has to resort to illegal drugs that cost her every penny she has in order to qualify for the trip. Her sister, Nicci, is weak and scared and hates this plan and never seems to genuinely understand that they don’t have another option, but she’s grieving and losing everything, you know? That warrants some sympathy.
I was invested from the first sentence. And early on I noticed that my kindle was giving me a read time in excess of 20 hours, but I checked the table of contents and saw titles, so I figured this was actually a series. But there came a moment when I realize how far I’ve gotten and they haven’t even left the planet, and I’m starting to question this again. Look into it.
Nope, single book. The titles I saw were parts. And it truly is a single book that is over 700 pages long. This is longer than Fellowship of the Rings. Almost as long as the first book of Game of Thrones. This is insane.
And I can’t stress enough that there’s not a wasted word in this book. Yes, I had some fatigue reading this, but I’m more used to reading books that are 70 pages. At no point did I think, “This whole scene could have been removed.” Everything was essential.
Here’s the critical thing to keep in mind if you decide to pick this up (other than holy balls, it’s long): this is not a romance. Oh, there is a romance in it. It’s a good one, too. And I can’t say that it doesn’t satisfy the conditions of romance from my previous post, but arguably, it misses a broader definition of one of those conditions. I’ll get to this in a moment, but for right now, let me stress that this doesn’t make it a book you shouldn’t read if you’re looking for a romance. You just have to know that it’s complicated.
The other thing is I don’t know what to define this book as. That’s most likely a failing in myself. I would think there’d be a term for this particular subgenre of speculative fiction, I just don’t know what it is. It’s kind of a saga, but it takes place over the course of a year (well, there’s a 6,000 year voyage in the middle of it, but it’s not an active component to the plot so I’m not giving it a technical point) whereas sagas conventionally stretch across huge swaths of time, even cross-generations. It’s kind of a literary tragedy, and one could argue that the hero, Meoraq, does fit the definition of a tragic hero, but the feats he accomplishes don’t quite have the grand scale of a classic tragic hero. He is a zealot, and I suppose we could call this his tragic flaw, but because of the romance element, he’s not actually ruined by it.
So here’s what Last Hour of Gann is:
It is a cross between Oregon Trail and a trip to Mecca. It is a group of early pioneers who actually have no clue what they’re doing and no training in this scenario (the supplies that would have made colonizing easy are destroyed) who would all surely perish in a month’s time, only for a native religious zealot in the middle of a spiritual journey to find them and interpret this as a sign from God that he must shepherd them along with him to the temple.
This story could go two ways, and this is critical to why this isn’t a romance. If we’re putting this into terms of the Am I The Asshole (AITA) subreddit, ESH. Everyone sucks. Everyone’s shit. There are about 50 humans and 1 alien, and every fucking one of them is terrible. There’s the self-appointed leader, Scott, who has no idea what he’s talking about, he’s just charismatic, and he uses Amber as a scapegoat for everything because she challenges him. Nicci, the sister, sides with Scott but still takes advantage of Amber’s kindness at every opportunity. Everyone sides with Scott, in fact, even when they know Amber is right.
But Amber is a raging, unapologetic bitch. She’s right, and it’s hard to flip a situation like this without completely giving in to Scott, and that could prove fatal, but she’s definitely bitchier than she needs to be. And Meoraq isn’t any better. He’s is wholly unsympathetic to the plight of the humans to the point of abusive. You can’t fully fault him for it, the humans are all awful, but he takes it to extremes.
All of this would be fine for a romance IF there was a satisfying arc of punishment and redemption. If the story had gone in that direction, if everyone either learned a valuable lesson and changed for the better or refused to and were punished for it, I would absolutely call it a romance. Because as much as it’s not what we’re thinking of when we say “Happily Ever After,” I think that’s part of it. Yes, the hero and heroine need to live happily ever after, but the world around them should be better as well. The good must triumph and the evil must fail.
But this isn’t that kind of story. The good and bad things that happen don’t happen because the person is good or bad. Good things happen to bad people and vice versa. And more importantly, when bad things happen to bad people, it’s not because they’re bad. This is like a pedophile who is never outed, never arrested and thrown in jail, but gets that flesh-eating bacteria and loses a leg. Yay, I guess, but no lesson is learned and no victim is ever compensated, so yay?
Repeating myself: this is not a reason not to read this book. It truly is exceptional. Meoraq’s introduction is really confusing, as you’re reading it you gotta accept that it’s going to make sense later, but it’s otherwise well worth the ridiculous length of it.
One completely bonkers element of it: This book was published in 2013. If I had read this in 2013, I guarantee you that I would have hit a point where I said, “No, these humans are totally unrealistic, and there’s no way that they wouldn’t have progressed beyond this by now,” and put the book down. I know this because I did have that thought. But every time I did, I thought about the last few years, of COVID and the political climate in the US and the US population in general and beyond and…
…And this is totally realistic. I now know that if people are given the choice between hard truths from a dislikable person and lies from a charismatic person who says everything he’s done wrong — which they’ve witnessed him do wrong — was the fault of the dislikable person, some of them will side with the charismatic person until the day they die.
Even if their death could have been prevented if they’d sided with the dislikable person.
Also, there’s a bunch of triggers in The Last Hour of Gann. Just putting it out there. If you have any of the typical dark romance triggers, this may not be the book for you. But, like, if you’ve ever perused the super fucked-up side of hentai, you’re good.