Some people want scientific explanations for everything in fiction. I'm not one of them. Frankly, I prefer it if we never know why the zombies walk the earth, or how the Force works, but if the author feels he or she simply must try to explain the science of what's happening, I'll usually accept it and move on. You can get away with a lot of bad science and as long as the characters are compelling, I don't care. But people, this was just too much.
The premise of The Last Night, insofar as I understood it in one reading, is that a chain of devastating earthquakes worldwide destroyed all the cities. The earthquakes, and volcanic activities, still rumble every few days. All this seismic activity churned up the soil and unleashed previously buried microbes that infected people, turning them into “ashers”. Ashers have skin (and possibly internal organs – I wasn't clear on this) that has turned to stone (or a stone-like substance). They have the mindless persistence of standard zombies but they can feel fear and they can move fast and use strategy on a basic level. They attack people and drag them to their fires in their quest for things to burn and then eat. To tell you the truth, I would have thought that was all pretty nifty except for the whole “previously buried microbes” thing, about which I can only say, “Whaaaaa?”.
One group of survivors has taken up residence in the ruins of a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. Erica, the group loner, considers herself doomed, and refuses to buy into the idea that life is still worth living, as shown by her refusal to do things like pretend to be happy about green beans, or keep track of the days of the week. This is confusing, because when the hero, Jake, meets Erica, he's struck by how she shows more fight than anyone else. The point is made repeatedly that Erica is a fighter and everyone else has given up, even though our first intro to Erica says, “For Erica time ticked down. It slipped away
toward certain death and doom.”.
I guess Erica is supposed to be a fighter and the only one who still believes in hope despite all this angst because she wants to explore a distant area where she sometimes sees rain. She has hope that this is a better place where a truly worthwhile life can be lived. Luckily for her, hot guy Jake rides in on his motorcycle with a new way to kill ashers using what I'm choosing to describe as magic rocks. There's whole thing about special rocks that are ionized with blue lightning, and if you rub them on your weapon (no innuendo intended) they charge the weapon, and then the blade can cut through rocks. You see where these are difficult concepts for me to grasp. Together Jake and Erica go looking for the site of rain.
The book may be wildly implausible but it has a lot of good points. First of all, the sex was well written. It was also plausible – the fact that Jake and Erica have sex within a few hours of meeting isn't surprising since they both know they could be killed at any second. The romance happens very fast but that is also plausible, for the same reason. The side characters are allowed to be multi-dimensional. Gail is a tough leader who may be overly cautious, but she also keeps a rag-tag group of traumatized people together and alive for a long time. Ray is jealous and competitive, but he's no dummy and he keeps an eye on the big picture. Thad has the best nickname ever (nope, not telling). Although the Erica/Jake romance is marred by a manufactured conflict near the end, they do have actual things in common, character arcs together, and a cool HEA. Most importantly, and I'm going to harp on this a lot, Rosso tries out new ideas. They may not fully pan out, but at least Rosso makes an effort, and I appreciate the hell out of that.
My biggest problems with Last Night were that the explanations made no sense, and there were character inconsistencies that I didn't understand based purely on a single reading. If these are not things that typically bug you, you'll probably like the book. Rosso deserves loads of extra credit for doing some original things here. I don't like the mechanics of the Ashers, but the idea of a being that has all the emotional baggage of a zombie (used to be human, possibly someone you knew), matched with an almost indestructible body and an appetite for fire, is pretty awesome. I also like the challenge faced in finding a HEA for a couple who are living post-apocalypse. It's been done before, but not often, because “HEA” and “Apocalypse” generally cancel each other out. So, even though this specific book didn't do it for me, I would definitely be willing to try another one of Rosso's books, and I would give this book a solid B if the weird science wasn't in the way. Meanwhile, again, thanks to the author for at least being original – I'd rather read something that is original but flawed than something that's been done over and over again any day.