The Last Warrior
Reading The Last Warrior by Susan Grant was like revisiting my first introduction to fantasy and sci-fi books. While this book brought back feelings of nostalgia, it also lacked the more complex world building that I see in many of today’s science fiction and fantasy novels, resulting in an average read for me.
Light years ago, early settlers thrived on Tassagonia until the arrival of Gorr invaders. Both sides were nearly annihilated by sophisticated weaponry. After their arks are destroyed, the mortal enemies are stranded together. The Gorrs with their “furred muscular bodies, rows of needle-sharp teeth, pale slitted eyes designed to charm and then kill” have continued to present a deadly threat to the Tassagons.
Finger pointing ensues after the catastrophic loss of the arks with many blaming the Tassagonian scientists, resulting in a splintering within their society. The ruling party puts in place an oral code prohibiting the practice of the dark arts (intellectual pursuits). Now most of the learned community, called the Kurel, live separately except for a small group co-existing in a settlement outside of the capital, doing tasks like writing, teaching, and accounting for the uneducated Tassagons. While they have managed to reside side by side, each views the other with suspicion and distrust.
With the death of King Orion and the new reign of Kim Xim things worsen. After getting sick, Xim’s youth, superstition, and paranoia cause him to lash out at the Kurel. Years ago a plague caused widespread fatalities for Xim’s people but very few Kurel died. After he becomes sick, he suspects a Kurel spell and so he rewrites the Forbiddance and gives orders for soldiers to shoot on sight any practitioner of the dark arts. Elsabeth’s peaceful, compassionate parents are some of the first casualities, killed after trying to reason with the soldiers. After their death, Elsabeth’s quest for vengeance is born. Accepting a job as tutor to King Xim’s children, she connects with Field–Colonel Markam, a high ranking Tassagon looking to oust the king.
General Uhr-Tao returns victorious from what he considers his last battle with the vanquished Gorr. After fighting the Gorr for over half his life, he’s looking forward to retirement. However his brother-in-law King Xim is jealous of his success, and has him arrested for a trivial transgression with plans to manufacture evidence and prosecute him for treason. Uhr-Tao’s friend Markam arranges for him to hide in plain sight within the Kurel community and recruits Elsabeth to help. As Elsabeth and Tao are thrown together, prejudices dissolve as they start to understand one another. Can love be far behind?
When an author elects to build a new world, then I want that world to come alive. I want the “who,” “what,” “when,” and “why.” Ms. Grant gives the reader the basic framework, but not much more than that. I wanted to know the history of the Gorr conflict. Why hasn’t a truce ever been achieved? Why are they fighting? I also needed more information about the break within the Tassagon society. While I understand the biggest difference between the Kurel and rest of the Tassagon is the acceptance of scientific discoveries, rejecting weapons of destruction is easily comprehendible but rejecting basic medicine just seems downright senseless. The author talks of the great divide between the two societies, but I never felt it, especially since Tao’s entry into the Kurel’s community is eased by one of his early actions.
While Elsabeth and Tao are admirable characters I found them fairly stereotypical. King Xim is one dimensional and almost a caricature of an ill-advised, heedless ruler. Markam is in love with an unattainable woman, which at first glance seemed to have plenty of potential. However, that relationship is underdeveloped.
One a positive note, the pacing of the book, with a balance of interpersonal dealings and action, is well done.If you are looking for a light science fiction book, then this book might appeal to you. Fans of intricate world building should give it a pass, though.