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The Last Hawk (Saga of the Skolian Empire) [Mass Market Paperback]

Catherine Asaro

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Book Description

22 Mar 1999 Saga of the Skolian Empire (Book 3)
When Kelric, a scion of the imperial family of Skolia, crash-lands his fighter on the off-limits planet of Coba, he figures it will be only a short time before he makes his way home. But he fails to account for the powerful matriarchy of Coba, the mistresses of the great estates who do not want the Empire to know about their recent cultural advances. First they take him prisoner. Then, one by one, the most powerful women on the planet fall in love with him!

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"Well-written, entertaining, classic science fiction fun."--"Cleveland Plain Dealer""Rising star Catherine Asaro exploded onto the science fiction scene with all the blazing glory of a supernova with her first book called Primary Inversion. Now, in the third tale of the Skolian Empire, we see not only the powerful characterization and intriguing scientific concepts of the first two books, but also an elegant subtlety and a far-reaching sense of destiny that carries her to the highest rank of master storyteller."--"Romantic Times"""The Last Hawk" is a true gem, with believable hard science, human drama, and people and events that will draw in any perceptive reader. Impossible to put down, "The Last Hawk" embodies excellence in prose and science fiction, an excellence all too rare in any era."--L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

About the Author

Catherine Asaro was born in Oakland, California and grew up in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley. She received her Phd in Chemical Physics and MA in Physics, both from Harvard, and a BS with Highest Honors in Chemistry from UCLA. Among the places she has done research are the University of Toronto in Canada, the Max Planck Institut fur Astrophysik in Germany, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Her research involves using quantum theory to describe the behavior of atoms and molecules. Catherine was a physics professor until 1990, when she established Molecudyne Research, which she currently runs. A former ballerina, Catherine has performed with ballets and in musicals on both coasts and in Ohio. In the 1980s she was a principal dancer and artistic director of the Mainly Jazz Dancers and the Harvard University Ballet. Catherine still teaches ballet in Maryland. Catherine's fiction is a successful blend of hard science fiction, romance, and exciting space adventure. She has published more than ten novels, almost all of which belong to her "Saga of the Skolian Empire," including "The Quantum Rose," which won the Nebula Award for best novel of 2001 Her husband is John Kendall Cannizzo, an astrophysicist at NASA. They have one daughter, a young ballet dancer who loves math.

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Deha Dahl, the Manager of Dahl Estate, was playing dice. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun SF novel which plays with Romance conventions 9 Aug 2000
By Richard R. Horton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Last Hawk takes place roughly at the same time as the action of Catherine Asaro's first novel, Primary Inversion, but on a completely isolated planet. The connection to her other Skolian novels is that the protagonist, Kelric, is a member of the Ruby Dynasty, ruling family of the Skolian empire. He crash-lands on an isolated, restricted, planet, Coba, and becomes a pawn in an extended power struggle.
The novel is really concerned with the social and political setup on this planet. The society of this planet is female dominated, and a powerful male like Kelric is a threat, both to the societal structure, and to the political independence: this last because if he is found by the Skolians, the restricted label is likely to vanish, and Coba will be absorbed into the Empire.
There are other key aspects to the social structure: Coba is dominated by a number of Houses, each with a female head. The planet has replaced war with a game called Quis. Each House has some first rate Quis players: the Head of the house, and members of her household, especially including her "husbands" (or "akasi"s). Information is transmitted by Quis playing, and very good players can influence "public opinion" by innovative playing. I found this concept fascinating, though in the end quite unconvincing. An important aspect of this is that a Calani (male Quis player) from one household is very valuable to another household, because of his "inside knowledge", as it were, and a certain flexibility he seems to gain from being exposed to different styles of Quis. Thus these Calani become, essentially, prize commodities, tradable for money or political favors.
After his crash, Kelric is rescued by a team from the leading allied house to the "ruling" house. Kelric, damaged and also unable to tolerate some of the local chemistry, barely survives. Soon, however, he has "married" the head of Dahl house (the house which found him), and he has met the heir apparent to the ruling House. Despite his emotional ties, he eventually tries to escape, and accidentally kills someone, as a result ending up in prison. However, he has two important things on his side: he is a natural genius at Quis (helped somewhat by his Skolian biomechanical enhancements); and he is very sexy, and the powerful women of the Houses tend to fall in love with him. The story follows him through a variety of Houses as the disruptions his presence causes begin to threaten the structure of Coban society.
This is an interesting novel, with much to recommend it, and very readable. I had problems with couple of things: the ultimate improbability of Quis is one, including the improbably sudden scientific advances supposedly resulting from Kelric transmitting ideas from Skolian culture to the Cobans via Quis. Also, a couple of villains who were almost too bad (though Asaro really tries hard to make them plausible and close to sympathetic), and I had a certain difficulty in staying emotionally involved with Kelric's many romances and quasi-romances. Kelric's amazing Quis ability was a bit of a cliche (though to be fair, Asaro provides at least some justification for it, in the form of his bio-mechanical enhancements), and the actions of some of the characters at times seemed to be designed to advance the plot rather than to arise from their own characteristics. The female-dominated society was quite well handled, I thought. Sometimes Asaro was too clearly engaging in allegory though, having the Coban women, generally good people, casually treat their men in blatantly sexist ways: all this seemed obviously a reversal of male sexism in our society: a fairly effective device for the most part, but a bit too pat and obvious in places. The novel's structure, in six parts corresponding to the six Houses of which Kelric becomes a member, allows Asaro to explore Coban society from many angles: some of the Houses are traditional, some modern, some strong, some weak: so we get a fairly varied look at the planet and society. That said, I didn't get a strong sense of a "complete" planet: rather, the society seemed to consist of smallish, isolated, enclaves.
When I originally finished this book, I thought "Fast, fun, read. Some nice ideas. Not quite successful." But it has improved in memory. Even if I found the basic idea of Quis unbelievable, it is a clever idea, and moreover one which works very well thematically. Also, I believe some of my original mild disappointment was due to the failure of the novel to conform to typical Romance plot expectations. But on reflection, this is a strength, and not a weakness. I feel sure, too, that this novel plants a charge waiting to be detonated later in the Skolian series, whenever Coba confronts the Universe at large.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Asaro is spellbinding 1 Dec 1999
By Dianne Kraft - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Last Hawk is the third Asaro novel I have read, and while they each stand alone (Primary Inversion & Catch the Lightning being the other two) they also build a fascinating description and time-line of an alternative universe. The Last Hawk focuses on what happens to our hero after he is forced to crash on a planet in which matriarchy is the dominant social form. Asaro reminds me of early Joanna Russ & Ursula LeGuinn in her handling of gender issues, which jolt us with their unfamiliarity and make us look at our unbidden assumptions. There is a lot of action here, but a lot of subtlety also. One of the central themes has to do with a planet-wide game which also serves as communication net -- rather as if chess & go were a primitive form of the internet. Ian Bank's "The Player of Games" comes to mind. If you like adventure, alternative realities, personal stories and social commentary in your science fiction, this is a must read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 8 Dec 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Last Hawk is about the brother of the main character in Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. He crash lands on a planet that has a matriarchal society in which a few men are treasured, the men who can play a game that determines the course of the future. Kelric is a natural at this game. He is a pawn traded from kingdom to kingdom, from queen to queen, as his influence as a player grows.
The book contains an interesting examination of male/female roles by making males subserviant to women. The game is also fascinating. It seems to be based on quantum physics, but I don't know enough about that area to be sure.
The book is good SF. It was also a great read. I picked it up thinking I wouldn't like it (after I'd read some of the reviews below) and couldn't put it down.
I think that there's a difference between great literature and great reading. I give books that I enjoy more stars than books I should enjoy but don't, so Proust (boring) gets 1 star and The Last Hawk (thrilling) gets 5. By the way, the SF I've liked includes Endymion, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, The Forever War, Rendezvous with Rama, The Left Hand of Darkness, Babel-17, The Man in the High Castle...
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is one terrific book 20 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I've enjoyed all of Asaro's stories, but this one may be my favorite. Her world building of matriarchal Coba is fascinating, as are her characters. I also loved the role reversal, with Kelric playing the Helen of Troy role as most of the female rulers on the planet fall in love with him. There are comic aspects to this, and terrific characterization, but also serious ideas about what it means to be adored but powerless, usually a role assigned to women. I also loved the strategy game of Quis, a truly brilliant fictional invention. I understand that Kelric's story will be carried on in an upcoming Asaro title. I fully intend to snap it up the day it appears.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating New Twist on Interstellar Relations 4 Nov 2007
By Leslie Tramposch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
THE LAST HAWK is the fourth installment in the Saga of the Skolian Empire. It stars Kelric Valdoria Skolia, Jagernaut Tertiary, third heir to Skolian Imperator, Kurj. The story takes place during the same period as the two tales of his sister Sauscony and Jabriol Qox II, PRIMARY INVERSION and THE RADIANT SEAS. Having said that, THE LAST HAWK is a vastly different sort of tale from the aforementioned titles.

When Kelric's crippled starfighter kicks out of inversion in an unfamiliar part of the universe, he realizes that he must find a place to land or perish. Already injured he crash lands on Coba, a planet on the ISC restricted list.

Quarantined by their own request, the Coban's are forbidden to interact with Skolians. Thus defines the conflict when the crash is viewed and the rescue team realizes that the victim is indeed a member of that race. Should they break the rules and save his life, or deliver him to the starport assuring his death?

It is clear early on that the inhabitants have descended from the same ancestors as the Skolians. Through geographical isolation their society had developed quite differently. They have not yet attained the technical advancements of Kelric's world. Though they possessed fliers, the had not achieved space flight. The planet's restricted status is basically unnecessary, as Kelric would soon learn. In order to preserve their freedom, Kelric's is forfeit. They save his life but he will never be allowed to return home.

Coba is under matriarchal rule; women being the more aggressive sex. They hold the power, ruling the estates, making all of the major decisions. The men are either, demure and virginal mate prospects, kasi/consorts, prostitutes, or Calani/ master Quiz players.

The latter are the closest to being influential in this female dominated society. They are the men behind the woman, plying their dice playing skills for the benefit of their estate Manager. They are the historians, diplomats, and strategists. They are cloistered, prized and protected, and bound by a most restrictive oath that keeps the power firmly in the hands of the women.

Quiz has long since replaced warfare as means of resolving issues and settling disputes. It reflects the history of the culture, the current political climate, the mood of the player himself.

Because of who he is and his physical desirability, Kelric the space warrior soon finds himself "imprisoned" within his savior's Calanya, where he must follow the rules in order to survive. With a penchant for mathmatics, and empathic mind, a lengthy period of isolation, his skill at the game becomes phenomenal. This and his exceptional beauty whets the desire of virtually every major estate manager on the planet. Each will vie for possession, to the extent of obsession for one.

Captivity does not set well with Kelric, not only is his spirit dampened, his body is in great need of repair but the technology does not exist to rejuvenate him. The environment is taking its toll as well, the food, the atmosphere, even his own healing agents are beginning to poison him. As the Quiz imparts Coba's history to Kelric, so too does he impart his own Skolian culture and values to others. One woman's desire to possess and another's to defend him have near critical consequences. Only the restraint and clear headedness of the others will spare their way of life.

Though he eventually becomes an unprecedented sixth level Quis master, and has even found love a time or two, none of this has occurred by his choice. Even were it not evident that he will soon die without the technological advances of his own world, even though he has no idea what has transpired in the decade and half he's been absent, even though he will have to leave his own flesh and blood behind, Kelric's driving desire is to return home. In spite of the havoc his presence has wreaked on their world, he leaves behind a lesson and a legacy that will hold the Cobans in good stead in the future. His story continues in ASCENDANT SUN.

I liked the different twist this story possessed, taking a man who has come to rely on high technology, and reducing him to relying on his wits; a man accustomed to leading forced to follow, a prince forced to be a consort, unable to fight and at the mercy of others. I truly enjoyed the role reversal, it was fun picturing males as too flighty for major decision making or leadership roles, their indignant responses to sexual overtures, all the stereotypical female behavior. This story pokes fun at these stereotypes in a way that shows just how ridiculous they truly are.

Reviewed for PNR Reviews
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