The Last Warrior
by Susan Grant, futuristic (2011)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77542-2
Welcome to Uhrth. In this motley world, humanity has splintered into three races - the Tassagon, the Riders, and the Kurel. The Tassagon, from this story, seems like your typical generic Monarchy in a Distant Planet type of people, while the Kurel are pacifists, guarding the now-banned "dark arts" of science and technology so that they could never be used to nearly destroy humanity like their ancestors nearly did a long time ago. The Riders don't really get showcased here - maybe in another book.
So, The Last Warrior. This is the first book in a series to be set in this setting. In this one, we have General Uhr-Tao finally returning with his men, a triumphant hero who spent the last four cycles putting down the threat of the furry meanies Gorr creatures, only to discover that the biggest threat to humanity may be humanity itself. You see, King Xim, not exactly the most stable man around, has the Kuren folks in the place all rounded up and treated like citizens with no rights, and some people are not happy. Tao finds himself at the wrong end of the law when Xim, envious and feeling threatened by Tao's popularity with his people and his army, has Tao framed as a traitor. One of Tao's allies will be our heroine, the inexplicably normally-named Elsabeth, who is a Kurel wishing to seek vengeance on Xim for the death of her parents. She will have to make up her mind whether Tao is her enemy or her ally.
In many ways, there is nothing particularly wrong with The Last Warrior. Characterization is tad thin, but because this is a plot-driven story, the polished and well-paced narrative keeps things interesting nonetheless. The plot doesn't hold many surprises, but the author's approach manages to engage my attention. Tao can be a bit of a lawful dimwit at times, as he can deduce that things are not what they are, but he needs to be told or shown the obvious before he comes to the right conclusion. But he's what he is, an honorable soldier who lives for what is right - Duncan Idaho in all his glory - and he is more than adequate in his role.
However, Elsabeth is completely wrong in her role as an undercover player amidst the intrigue in Xim's court. In another role, perhaps, she may be fine as she is outspoken, honorable, and unbending when it comes to doing what is right. However, her virtues make her a terrible, terrible undercover person. Honestly, when she is told by her ally to keep an eye on Tao as they may use him on their side, she pretty much proceeds to berate him for being a war-like thug and lets him know that she holds his people responsible for the death of her parents. If Tao isn't who he is, she'd be executed the following day. Worse, she is all talk. Tao and the various secondary characters do something. Her role in the penultimate moment of the story is to stand helplessly and watch in the sidelines. I am not kidding. After all the bungling and bumbling she does in this story, the least she could do is to deliver something, anything, to make up for her being a waste of space, but alas, that's not going to happen here.
I can't help thinking The Last Warrior would be more interesting if Aza had been Tao's girlfriend instead of his sister in this story. Her role in this story as a woman trapped between her husband and her childhood friend is far more interesting than Elsabeth's, and she also comes off as far more capable than Elsabeth.
The Last Warrior is a pretty decent form of entertainment on a slow afternoon, and in many ways, it is a pretty thrilling ride despite its predictable plot. It is really too bad that the heroine brings nothing to the table, and the story actually reaches a happy ending despite her best efforts to bungle up everything.
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