She Who Laughs Last
by Jennie Klassel
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) 0-8439-5231-8
****
New author Jennie Klassel has created a fictional kingdom filled with political intrigue, a manly and honorable Prince, and a courageous and determined young Lady of an aristocratic house who along with her teenage brother and a few loyal servants, set out to right a great wrong.  Oh, and by the way, it also contains humor and fanciful daydreams and chamber pots. 

Lady Syrah has disguised herself as a soiled dove to lure Prince Jibril away from his men so that she along with her brother and maid can kidnap him.  She does not want to harm the Prince, whom she has loved since she was thirteen, but they need a great deal of money to hire a mercenary to rid her family estate of her hated cousin Ranulph.   The cousin arrived at their estate in the guise of helping Syrah and younger brother Eben after their mother died of brain fever and their father became mentally impaired from it.  Ranulph even produced a document he claims their father gave him instructing him to marry Syrah.  She has sent letters to the King to right these wrongs, but the replies have not been favorable.  She finally fakes the drowning death of herself, her brother, and a few loyal servants to get away from Ranulph.

Prince Jibril wonders why the tempting woman in the tavern appeals to him.  He has had women in his life, but he recently decided it was time to find a wife.  Sadly, he believes that the young Lady Syrah whom he had met years ago at her father's estate and had waited until she was older to approach is dead. When Jibril wakes up bound and gagged in a small crate, he realizes that he has been duped.  As he uses his tactical skills to try and get away, he becomes more and more intrigued by the cunning as well as the kindness of the lady in charge of his kidnapping.  When she finally releases him after truly getting the money from his father, the King, he is determined to find out who she is and to help her with her troubles.

While this sounds quite serious, Klassel has included some delightful humor.  Syrah's creative use of chamber pots to trick the King and get the ransom is very inventive.  Her brother has a creative imagination and uses it to concoct wild and funny stories to get them out of sticky situations.  Her maid is loyal, but a bit over dramatic with a flair for imagining wild, improbable results of their adventures.  The author manages to weave the serious intrigue with the humor and to keep the many threads of the story from getting tangled.  She also includes a number of secondary characters who are integral parts of the action like Zebengo the mercenary who isn't what he seems and the King who does not show Syrah exactly what he is doing to her and for her.

There are a few concerns with the story that kept it from receiving five hearts.  Lady Syrah is a very levelheaded tactician who can defeat almost anyone at chess.  She uses these skills to make her plans and to guide her in through the political activities.  She has reasons not to really trust Jibril and the King at first, but toward the end, I thought she held on to her need to do everything herself to her detriment.  There are also a few threads that are left hanging such as why one of the King's trusted men hides important information from him.   Despite these concerns, the story is exciting, funny, and has the refreshing quality of the hero knowing he wants the heroine throughout most of the book.

I like the Kingdom of Dominion and hope to see more of it.  Eben, Syrah's fourteen-year-old brother was well on his way to being a man by the end of the story. I would love to see him get a book of his own.

--B. Kathy Leitle


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