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REVIEW: Last Worst Hopes – Lee Hunt

COVER REVEAL: Last Worst Hopes - Lee Hunt

Genre: Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: Includes Lesbian Characters

Reviewer: Scott

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About The Book

Their world was ending, all the heroes were dead, the leaders confused, and their enemies were head and shoulders above them. But there was no one else; they were the dregs, the last worst hopes.

Nehring Ardgour has summoned Skoll and Hati from hell. They have torn through the proud and ancient country of Engevelen and the angelic Methueyn Knights that protect it. Armies have died, cities have fallen. None of the great remain. No brilliant inventors, no powerful knights, no master wizards.

No heroes.

But it gets worse. Farrah Harbinger has looked into the future and foretells the coming of an enemy worse than all the others, a creature of destruction and entropy like no other. A being who will grind all hopes and memory of civilization into dust: the One, True Devil.

Who can stop it? Who is left to even try?

Surely not Val, an arrogant young wizard who no one takes seriously, or Mick, an old man who can’t even remember his name. Certainly not Dav, who cannot seem to tell left from right or up from down, or Aveline, a squire filled with more questions than courage. No one would pick them to save the world, and yet there is no one else left.

The Review

For his amazing and innovative Dynamiscist Trilogy, Lee Hunt invented a whole new fantasy subgenre – I call it Epic Wheat Fantasy. I kid him a little, but it really does have a lot to do with both those golden grains and a fascinating heat-based magical system.

Now for the prequel, Last Worst Hopes, he does it again. I give you the world’s first (that I’m aware of) Epic Nursing Home Fantasy.

Again, I tease poor Hunt. There is indeed a nursing home that plays an important part of the story, but don’t forget the Epicpart. This is a wide-ranging fantasy tale with a bunch of point of view characters that fills in some of the blanks from the past history of the Dynamicist trilogy:

  • How did the Methuen Bridge get lost?
  • How did Huygens (the place the magic comes from) become so much more difficult to access?
  • How did the country of Engevelen fall, and who built the wall to contain the skolves?

The book starts off with a name Dynamicist fans will recognize—Lady Koria Valcourt—who in her preface sets the stage for the story we’re about to read. If you are new to Hunt’s Dynamicist world, don’t worry. You don’t need to read the trilogy first, though I highly recommend it. You can jump right in and enjoy the story just as it is. This journey takes place before the original books, so knowledge of those events is not necessary.

And what a journey it is. We’re thrown into the middle of the Metheuyn War, some 250 years before the trilogy. The book follows a rag-tag band of heroes who represent the last dregs of wizards and warriors in the battle against the army from hell that has been released from hell by a powerful but deranged wizard named Nehring Ardgour. In a world where a unique idea can literally get you killed, new ways of doing things are sorely needed to win this war, and it falls to the least among these least-likely heroes to find them.

I love the Unchosen Ones anti-trope at work here. None of these folks particularly want to be heroes, but when greatness is thrust upon them, they rise to the challenge—some literally. There are some fascinating critiques here of our current world: how lies are told to accomplish political goals, how hewing too closely to an idea at the expense of the real world around you can bring you to ruin, and, not to put too fine a point on it, how people often choose denial when their world is collapsing around them.

There’s a real power in the aching, doomed beauty of Courant, one of the cities of Engevelen, as it teeters on the brink of destruction and ruin. One of the early scenes put me in mind of something my dad said to me recently about Ukraine. “One day you’re sitting at a café, sipping a cup of coffee, and the next your world is gone.” So it goes with Courant and Engevelen, and but for the grace of god…

And the scene where the Harbinger shares her visions with Davignon is truly soul shattering, even from the safe vantage of our own world.

My favorite character had to be Mick, the forgetful resident of said nursing home who still has a spark of greatness in him. In his first appearance, he saves a puppy from the rubble of a collapsed home, and we’re with him from there on. When he does come into his moment, it’s a beautiful thing to see. I also liked the LGBTQ+ characters in the story. While they are subtle, it’s good to see them included in this vision of a fantasy world.

I do have a couple nitpicks. The cast is so big, and most of them are soldiers or wizards in ruined or about-to-be-ruined towns, so it took me a bit to get the characters all straight in my head and figure out how all the locations connected with one another. That said, Hunt did finally include a map in this one, something that was lacking in the trilogy, and it’s immensely helpful to keep the action of the story straight.

There’s also a clever part at the end that didn’t have quite the impact I’d hoped, but I will say no more as I don’t want to give any spoilers.

Lee’s worldbuilding skills are fantastic. He immerses us in his world once again as we see the great beauty of a dying realm that recalls Rome in its days of glory before the fall.

And the underdog aspect (in one case, an actual dog!) made the ending all the sweeter. Hunt has no qualms about killing off characters over the course of the story (side note: it makes it easier to keep track of the survivors!). But these deaths have a purpose, often redirecting the plot and the remaining characters’ motivations.

This is an epic tale with a fascinating magical system (how in the world did he come up with freeze dolls?) and some truly frightening villains, and the high takes ratchet up the level of tension as the story gains steam and barrels toward its explosive ending.

Amazing worldbuilding plus great characters plus evil big bads plus a fantasy nursing home (with swords!) – how could you go wrong? I hope you love this book as much as I did.

The Reviewer

Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.  

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