And I think the reviewers are being kind.
Many readers hated the book because of Ramon Espejo. Others felt that his very asshole-ness made the book what it was. In the Q&A in the book’s last pages, Gardner states that early readers hated Ramon. It’s easy to hate Ramon.
It’s also hard to stop reading his story.
Ramon is a drunk, a woman-beater, a liar, a cheat. He’s a down-on-his-luck prospector on an alien planet. He’s a murderer. He has a hugely overblown view of himself.
He’s also tough, persistent, dogged and resourceful. He makes many bad decisions. He makes a few very good ones.
Ramon would be a difficult main character in a romance. Although he does a few heroic things, he’s not hero material. Not even with the recent trend in romance toward bad-boy protagonists. Not even with the trend toward blood-sucking dead guys as heroes.
Yet I found him a fascinating character and I actually cared enough about him to worry if he would live or die, fail or succeed. And so did a lot of other readers. And I wonder, with this talk about morality and society, how much vicarious nastiness we get out of our systems because of characters like Ramon. Or how much of our own nastiness we recognize in characters like Ramon and hence don’t feel quite that unusual.
We all have a dark side, good old Darth notwithstanding.
One of the criticisms often leveled at romance novels are that the main characters are too perfect. Too handsome. Too strong. Too caring. There have even been comments with the rise of the kick-ass heroine that we’re again creating characters with characteristics that are unattainable. Super Mom has spawned Super Fem Protagonist.
Ramon Espejo represents some of the worst of in all of us.
So does Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter but Hannibal the Cannibal was very outré. Larger than life, suave, manipulative. Intelligent. He was a number of good and worthy qualities gone bad.
Ramon’s just an asshole. And an uneducated one at that.
Then he stumbles on a secret that, if revealed, could cause the deaths of thousands. And he becomes, quite literally, his own worst enemy.
I don’t want to get into spoilers—I do encourage you to read this book if the issues of morality interest you at all—but it’s the “literally” where the book shines. And continues to take unexpected turns.
All I can say is the redemption I thought I saw coming for Ramon…doesn’t. But there is a redemption and it comes from another source. But uplifting…?
You need to see for yourself.
At only two hundred seventy six pages the book is a quick read. But I found it to be a very powerful one.
“You’ve told me many times I still need training. That a rogue Kyi like me is capable of utter destruction if I’m not careful. Then heed your own warning. Don’t force me to find out just what I’m capable of. Because when the dust settles, I will be the one left standing. And you know that.”