Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5231-8
Historical Romance, 2003
Jennie Klassel deserves an applause for creating a story filled with non-stop slapstick humor that never stops from start to finish. Filled with toilet humor and physical comedy mixed with non-stop plot and counterplots that rival Mission: Impossible in complexity, She Who Laughs Last may just as well refers to me; I am howling in laughter as I read this book.
Set in a fictitious medieval kingdom of Dominion some time after the Black Death and before King Richard’s crusade (not that it matters), this book tells of Lady Syrah’s plan to regain her estates and titles from a nasty cousin. She faked the deaths of her sick father, her fourteen-year old motormouth brother Eben, her very nervous maid Mayenne, and herself, and now, she seduces Prince Jibril, drugs him, and then holds him for ransom. The money will be used to hire mercenaries to kick that nasty cousin’s butt all the way to Prester John’s kingdom. Actually, the plot is a little more complicated than that, but I’ll leave the reader to discover the many twists and counter twists herself.
Syrah and Jibril first met when she was thirteen and she bested him in chess. How lucky for her that he is amused and in awed by her at the end of the day to want to marry her. Jibril is a cute hero – he’s a womanizing rake at first, but once he realizes that Syrah’s in trouble, his immediate priority is to help her first and marry her afterwards. Syrah is a pleasant surprise in that she is actually smart. Her stratagems and plots actually make a lot of sense and our heroine here does a lot of thinking before she acts. I like that. Adding to the fun is the really hilarious brother Eben, whose stories are awful yet hilarious. What’s with the obsession with dromedaries anyway?
The humor is a rollercoaster ride – no other way to describe it. From page one to last, I am dragged screaming with laughter as the endless barrage of potty humor, slapstick comedy, and repartees just keep coming. While I really have a great time laughing, I find myself wondering whether half the tortuous machinations of the heroine towards the late portions of the book are even necessary. Also, the actual romance between Syrah and Jibrail is pretty skimpy and even creepy. So busy are the characters in running all over the place, they have no quiet time together other than a few very rushed love scenes. I’m supposed to buy the concept that Jibrail has been attracted to her all along. The thing is, I’m told he last saw her when she was thirteen. I don’t think so, Ms Klassel, I really don’t think so.
Of course, one can argue that the thirteen-year old hot chick thing is historically accurate as this is a medieval romance after all. But the last thing this book can lay claim to is historical accuracy. Early in the story, Eben tells an elaborate yarn that suggests that this smart little boy is aware of the Gas Laws three hundred years before they are discovered. And there’s the use of the word “poop”.
But who cares about the historical accuracy thing? Or well-developed romance or characters? Jennie Klassel has created a really amazing book here: it’s a story that is paced most frenetically, the heroine actually has the brains to play the cat and mouse game with villains, princes, and kings twice her size, and damn, this book is really, really funny. Sure, it’s slapstick humor and potty jokes mostly, but Ms Klassel dishes them out like a pro. While I would hope that her next book will have some meatier romance featuring more well-developed characters, for now I’m just glad that I read this book.