She Who Laughs Last
Grade : A-

Jennie Klassel describes her debut novel as a medieval comedy. Though it was a winner of the New Historical Voice Contest sponsored by Leisure Books and Romantic Times, that description was worrisome. Humor is such a subjective thing. Telling the reader a book is supposed to be funny can make or break a reading experience. Funny is open to interpretation. And in most cases I'd rather figure out what's funny on my own. Luckily, in this case, my worries about forced humor and my possible disappointment were completely unnecessary. So if I say I laughed and I cried, will I be drummed out of the reviewers' corps?

She Who Laughs Last is set in the imaginary island nation called Dominion. Lady Syrah Dhion of the Ninth House falls in love with Crown Prince Jibril at age thirteen during a visit of the royal family to her father's hall. Six years later she and her family are homeless, driven out by scheming cousin Ranulf Gyp. Ranulf took control of the family holding after Syrah's father became ill. When Syrah's appeals for help from the King are ignored, she takes matters into her own hands. Soon everyone believes that her family perished in a shipwreck and Syrah is free to plot the kidnapping of the Crown Prince. Once she exchanges him for a ransom, she'll be able to hire the mercenaries she needs to drive Ranulf out.

After a night of flirtation with a barmaid, Prince Jibril wakes to find himself tied up and trapped in what feels suspiciously like a coffin. When he further assesses his situation, he realizes his captors aren't the hardened mercenaries he initially imagined. Instead his team of captors consists of a young aristocratic woman and her even younger brother, their maid and an older man who is obviously some kind of family retainer. Once his curiosity is aroused Jibril determines to unmask his oh so attractive captor and figure out just what makes her tick. If in the meantime he can seduce her, he figures his time will be well spent.

In my reviews I frequently talk about the tone of the books I read. And if forced I might even be able to tell you what I mean by that. Generally it's the overall feel I experience deep in the gut. Many times reading a story might make me remember how a particular song made me feel or how a movie moved me. In this case the resonance was with a movie favorite, Ever After. Syrah has the same determined strength that Drew Barrymore portrayed in the role of Danielle. And as that movie is Danielle's story, this is Syrah's. Her intelligence is evident on every page. When she was described in the prologue as being a whiz at chess, I probably groaned a bit. Many a romantic heroine plays chess like a pro, but all too few exhibit those same brains in the rest of their lives. Not so Syrah. Every move she makes is thought and rethought. She takes no action lightly.

Jibril's no slouch. He makes a fabulous counterpart to this strong heroine. His mind moves almost as fast as hers does. And if he is occasionally befuddled by her behavior, he is almost as frequently charmed. Here is a woman he's going to love for her brains as well as her beauty. Much as Jibril would like to pigeon-hole Syrah as a misguided female in need of protection, he eventually realizes this woman will be a partner in life. She's worth every effort. Jibril's behavior makes that clear from very early on, but it also leads to the only frustration I felt. Because the author made his respect for Syrah so obvious, his behavior in later chapters didn't ring true, even given the fact that he was acting at the behest of others. And though Syrah is not fooled for long, her quick forgiveness was also a bit incredible. I believed these characters could get past these events; I just wanted it to take a little longer.

I'm not generally a fan of made-up realms. Too often authors try to have it both ways and their efforts become meaningless. They make up their imaginary country then try to fit it into the world order as we know it, often with uneven results. Ms. Klassel expertly sidesteps that pitfall in her debut. Her imaginary country can be whatever and wherever the reader wants it to be. (Although her publisher's efforts to describe this as a book set in Medieval England is a little ridiculous given the middle-eastern references and names of the characters - Ranulf Gyp and Wales aside.) I was able to picture this as a Mediterranean nation and all the pieces fell neatly into place. This author was smart to stick to the fairy-tale world as she built it. Every piece works wonderfully.

This is a fairy-tale with an edge, and I loved it.

Reviewed by Jane Jorgenson
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : August 18, 2003

Publication Date: 2003

Recent Comments …

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