THE LAST HAWK
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Last Hawk is the third novel set in Catherine Asaros Skolian universe, along with the novella "Aurora in Four Voices." Fortunately, each of these stories stands on its own. In fact, The Last Hawk is set over a twenty-year timespan which encompasses the events which occur Asaros first novel, Primary Inversion.
The action begins when Kelric, a scion of the Skolian empire and half-brother to the current Imperator, is shot down over a restricted planet, Coba. The planet, ruled by a matriarchy, is listed as restricted in the empire's databases, mostly at the connivance of the Cobans, who fear losing their autonomy if the empire takes notice of them. The novel follows Kelric through nearly twenty years of trying to fit into their society.
The society Asaro has designed for Coba comes alive with an amazing speed. Even when Kelric is still in seclusion at the Dahl estate, only aware of the walls surrounding him, the reader manages to gain a reasonably good vision of Coban society. As Kelrics understanding of Coba expands, the readers vision also grows. While Catch the Lightning was set against a mixture of human and Skolian culture, The Last Hawk really gives Asaro the chance to show off her ability to create complex and believable cultures.
Kelric's exalted position in the galaxy as a whole gives Asaro the opportunity to examine several themes, not least of which is the question of the good of the individual vs. the good of society. Throughout the first half of the novel, the Coban matriarchy questions whether it is worth keeping Kelric alive when his very existence on their planet could spell the end of their civilization. For his part, even though Kelric holds a high social rank in the imperium, he quickly realizes that it has no bearing on his situation as long as he is living in Coban society.
One of the weaknesses of The Last Hawk is similar to one of the weakness of Catch the Lightning. Notably, many of Kelric's relationships, most notably his early relationship with Deha Dahl, don't quite ring true. He falls in love with a woman because she is there, not because of any emotional or intellectual connection. There are some exceptions, such as his relationship with Ixpar Karn, which Asaro shows from his earliest days on Coba, and his friendship with the kinsa (male prostitute) Ched, which arose through a mutual survival instinct.
The Last Hawk is reminiscent in many ways of David Brins Glory Season. Both novels follow the adventures of an off-world male on a matriarchal planet. While this alone wouldnt necessarily tie the two books together, they also both have a heavy reliance on games, Life in Glory Season and the interesting, intricate Quis, a sort of poker played with multi-shaped/colored dice in The Last Hawk.
Asaro has shown a surprising amount of growth between her second and third novel. Being, one would hope, at the beginning of her career, Asaro stands to gain a huge following if her books are publicized and marketed correctly. Asaro writes space opera along the lines of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan novels, although with a little less humor and a little more technical background and romance. With The Last Hawk, readers who have enjoyed Bujold's work now have another author to whom they can look for rousing space opera.
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