Published by Mandevilla Press on 15-06-2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction
With Africa's last elephants dying under the poachers' guns, Kenya rancher and former SAS officer Ian MacAdam leads a commando squad against them. Pursuing the poachers through jungled mountains and searing deserts he battles thirst, solitude, terror and lethal animals, only to find that the poachers have kidnapped a young archaeologist, Rebecca Hecht, whom he once loved and bitterly lost.
McAdam embarks upon a desperate trek to save not only Rebecca but his own soul in an Africa torn apart by wars, overpopulation, and the slaughter of its last wildlife. Based on the author's experiences pursuing elephant poachers in the wilds of East Africa.
I thought, with a blurb like that, that I would LOVE The Last Savanna. Conservation is what I study, I love elephants, I have some very strong opinions on poaching and Africa is one of the most beautiful settings. I expected some uncomfortable reading given that it’s about poaching, but I also expected a realistic, gritty but hopeful portrait of the fight against poaching.
Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. I honestly feel like a lot of the blurb could be talking about a totally different book. The poaching felt like a completely secondary part of the story. MacAdam isn’t really hunting the poachers out of a love for elephants, in fact he doesn’t even really want to go along. The Last Savanna is really all about MacAdam and Rebecca. This is the story of MacAdam searching for Rebecca, of Rebecca’s feelings towards her kidnappers, of their current relationships with their partners, their prior relationship with each other, and their soul searching. Rather a lot of soul searching. The Last Savanna is not a story of a man who loves Africa and risks his own life to take on the poachers and illegal wildlife trade.
I found MacAdam completely unlikable. He lives with his wife Dorothy, who hates Africa and desperately wants to go home to England. Their relationship is on the rocks, and MacAdam deals with that by….searching the country for his kidnapped ex-lover. We spend a lot of time in MacAdam’s head, and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it at all. He alternates between these thoughts of how beautiful Africa is and how the only thing that really matters is killing.
Rebecca is flighty and frustrating, and I couldn’t get behind the romance at all. Both characters are with other people now, which is always a bit of a risk, but something I could have coped with if done well. What I couldn’t really cope with was that they spent so much time thinking about each other when I couldn’t really feel a connection. Physically, yes, but not romantically.
The most interesting character is Warwar, one of the Somali poachers who kidnapped Rebecca. He grows throughout the novel, and I understood his motivations for the way he acted more clearly than anyone else’s.
As expected, the setting is beautiful. The landscapes are vividly portrayed and Bond clearly has a love for Africa. Bond shows his obviously intimate knowledge of Africa by using local terms for plants and animals, in much the same way as Anthony Lawrence does in his books.
My biggest issue with The Last Savanna was the writing style, which just did not work for me at all. As I read an ARC copy, these issues may have been fixed, but the writing put me off the story the whole way through. I’ve included a quote below which is an example of the ways the writing style bothered me.
“And this has broken my heart for so long now, because I’ve loved the wild, loved the animals, the forests, each tree and bush and river and hidden spring, those I know and those I’ll never see, each heath and wild shore and the herds of wilde-beest and zebra far as the eye can see, and then beyond, then beyond that, outspanned beyond time – the magnificent multiplicity of earth reduced now to these few outposts, these last cornered survivors of rain forest and savanna to be eliminated in my days, before my sons are old.”
This sentence is so long and wordy, not the sort of writing I expected when I thought I was signing up for a drama filled desperate pursuit of poachers! Secondly, this quote just comes back to my issues with MacAdam. One minute he’s a rugged, disillusioned ex-SAS man “Only killing’s not false; only killing changes things” [64% e-arc] and then the next he’s waxing lyrical about the intrinsic value of Africa. It feels like the two sides just don’t fit together well.
Both Ian and Rebecca spend a lot of time soul searching, and between that and the writing style, it felt like the author was trying too hard to make this book deep, meaningful and literary. Sometimes I like that sort of thing, but not when I’ve picked up a book on poachers.
I struggled through the book, determined to find out what happens in the end. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say, most emphatically, that the ending did not redeem the story for me.
I definitely seem to be in the minority with my opinion, so perhaps it’s due to my own biases that The Last Savanna and I just did not click on any level. I expected something great from Mr Bond, an environmental activist, but unfortunately I was disappointed. Aside from providing a small insight into the motivation behind poaching at ground level, The Last Savanna does little to address the poaching crisis. We see no insight into why the poachers would get paid so much for the ivory, no mention of the end users and not one method for stopping poaching (as opposed to simply hunting down the individual poachers). I didn’t find The Last Savanna enlightening or hopeful. It didn’t connect with me as an animal lover, as a conservationist or as a reader. Although the setting was beautiful, I didn’t enjoy the writing style, the characters or the romance.
If you’re looking for a character-driven slow building thriller with a literary feel, you will probably love The Last Savanna. If you already know you like Mike Bond’s writing, (or the quote above didn’t put you off) The Last Savanna may be a new favourite. But if you’re looking for a fast-paced tale of elephants and the men who try to protect them, I’d recommend putting The Last Savanna down and walking away.
Buy it? This is one I wouldn’t be willing to buy, or in fact, even borrow.
In a nutshell: I expected to love The Last Savanna but unfortunately it just wasn’t for me. Could not recommend.
I preferred: The Last Rhinos & The Elephant Whisperer