In her delightful debut, Klassel has created a middle ages historical setting in the kingdom of Dominion comprised of lesser twenty-seven different domains called Houses. This story centers on Lady Syrah, the eldest daughter of the Ninth House, who has made repeated requests of the king to protect her and her brother from the evil machinations of their cousin, who has used the debilitating illness of her father as an excuse to move in and take over their castle and domain. After the cousin makes attempts to force himself on Syrah, using a forged betrothal document her addled father doesn't remember signing, she escapes along with her brother, father and a couple of loyal family retainers. Dropping out of sight, they concocted a ruse that made it look as though the family had perished at sea.
Determined to regain the family estate for the young brother Eben, whom she felt responsible for, the two siblings devised an elaborate and wholly amusing plan to kidnap Jibril, the crown prince of Dominion and ransom him back to the king whom Syrah believed had forsaken her. The plan was to raise enough funds to hire a mercenary to oust her evil cousin from their home and regain it for her brother. The fact that Jibril had been the love of Syrah's young life (charmingly described in the prologue) ever since she met him at the age of 13, her treatment of him as her prisoner was a total joy as they matched wits against one another in both games of chess and love!
*** In reading SHE WHO LAUGHS LAST, the debut novel for Jennie Klassel, it was certainly easy to see why she was the winner in the National Contest sponsored by Romantic Times Bookclub and publishing. She created dynamite characterizations from the lead protagonists right down to the lowliest of guards and maids who were so totally endearing that it would be hard to say just who you liked the best - and believe me there were an enormous amount of secondary characters here to choose from as well as the two totally delightful leads. I have to admit that the 14-year-old brother Eben with his tall tales, usually centering around dromedaries, was so funny I often found myself chuckling out loud. Lady Syrah was a totally divine lead who was fashioned brilliantly with intelligence, a lovely sensual aura, and a charming sense of humor. The entire ensemble of supporting characters, a beautiful plot, and vivid sensual emotions, made this a fun read and a book that I can highly recommend. --- Marilyn, for www.romancedesigns.com ---