The Last Viking by Sandra Hill
(Lovespell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52255-1
****
The Last Viking by Sandra Hill, is a very silly book indeed. In so saying, I mean "silly" in the finest sense of the word, for Hill is an author who revels in the ridiculous, and The Last Viking may be the most broadly comedic romance novel thus written.

Consider the premise: Rolf, Viking warrior, is sucked through a whirlpool/time vortex to pop up in modern day Maine. There he takes up housekeeping with lovely, lonely medieval professor Meredith Foster. Once there, Rolf spends his time watching TV and becoming a devotee of Tim Allen, and Meredith is initiated into the joys of loving a chauvinist pig. Can you almost picture Monty Python doing a sketch around such a set-up?

What Hill does with her humorous premise goes much beyond a simple sketch, but takes the same basic joke and plays it out in multiple variations. After Meredith discovers Rolf wet and naked in her cottage, busily roasting a rabbit in her fireplace, she begins his crash course on the 20th century. While the comic possibilities of a primitive man negotiating the mysteries of the telephone, modern plumbing and spaghetti have been explored in everything from The Visitors to George of the Jungle, Sandra Hill does it with extraordinary freshness and joie de vivre.

Realistically, Rolf the Viking has quite antiquated ideas about the status of women. After a very short acquaintance, he decides "Merry-Death," despite her advanced years, is a fit companion for his bed furs. Meredith, who is a Viking scholar after all, is sorely tempted by his Kevin Sorbo magnificence, but she is a modern, educated woman who surely must first require an AIDS test. Personally, I find the subtle charms of a male supremacist so insignificant as to need an electron microscope to discover any; but Rolf is so breathtakingly funny, and so good-natured in his barbaric assumptions that I liked him anyway.

Meredith, like any straight man, has a tougher job as a character. Though she is described as a rather sad academic, survivor of a lonely childhood and a devastating divorce, she is hard to get a proper fix on. At times she seems so slight in contrast to Rolf's colorful, full-blooded Viking. Why, for example, does she allow him to stay in her house, when moments ago she thought him a mad rapist? Why does she explain all her modern household appliances to him, before she ever has a clue he is a time traveler? Add to this her rather erratic behavior, never quite knowing what she wants (well, she does want Rolf's body) and Meredith can be quite vexing no wonder Rolf suspects she is a witch. But then, perhaps her fey, unpredictable quality is what helps create the flaming romantic tension between this hero and heroine.

The Last Viking may not appeal to more serious-minded romance fans, or those who cannot appreciate an affectionate parody of cherished romantic conventions. But if you have read one too many bad Viking romances, and if your own sense of humor leans to the wacky, and you always rooted for Mork to end up with Mindy, The Last Viking will be sure to please.

One last word must be said on the subject of Last Viking's cover art, which sports a naked couple rolling in the waves, presumably on some beach off the coast of Maine for criminy's sake, with a Viking ship hovering in the air above their heads. Most certainly, we must never judge books by their covers, but who would ever guess such a smart, funny book would be inside such an embarrassingly cheesy cover? I have to wonder at the marketing executives who select such cover art do they really understand their product? Do they really know the sort of readers who are likely to buy Hill's books? I have my doubts!

Gentle Readers, get your tasteful cloth book covers ready!

--Meredith Moore


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