She Who Laughs Last

Girl on the Run by Jennie Klassel
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN0-505-52596-8
Girl on the Run sports a lovely cover that tweaks standard romance cover art very well, indeed. Unfortunately, what’s inside is far less of a pleasure. As the story implies, this is more or less a road romance, but what drags it down is the immature heroine and wishy-washy hero. I was left with an overwhelming urge to line up the characters and slap some sense into them.

The story opens with Kaia Kurinon, a seventeen-year-old cousin to the king of a mythical medieval realm, about to be kicked out of a convent for playing one too many pranks. Her stern father, who ordered her to be kept uneducated, placed Kaia in the sisters’ care. Thus, Kaia can’t read, but she dreams of running away to a place where women are free to learn and choose husbands of their own free will.

Kaia also has a monster-sized crush on Eben Dhion, a man she’s known since childhood. Eben, however, views Kara as off-limits, like the pesky little sister she’s always been to him. And “pesky” is the operative word here, as Kaia shows all the maturity of an infatuated sixth grader in her bid to get Eben’s attention. But I digress.

Kaia makes the acquaintance of Merlin, the wizard who is traveling backward in time. He informs Kaia that there exists a future where women do, indeed, gain an education and choose their own mates. Kaia decides to run away to the Western Isles and find a certain group of Standing Stones that will transport her to that time. Her sidekick on the journey is a blathering monk named Brother Absalom who wishes to become a scientist.

Eben is sent after Kaia with orders to bring her home. When he finally catches up with her, it’s on the island of Ataxi, run by his archenemy, Ranulph Gyp. From here, the novel descends into a tiresome pattern of Kaia doing stupid things and Eben having to rescue her, while Brother Absalom yammers away in the background

Kaia’s actions are so childish that she elicits no sympathy whatsoever. She’ll do just about anything to get Eben’s attention, and when that doesn’t work, she pouts, sulks, stomps around in a rage, and runs away. Again. And again. And again. Eben, for his part, has already decided he can nevernevernever love Kaia because she’s like a sister to him. (I’d have preferred that he never love her because she’s an obnoxious brat, but whatever.) Sex is out of the question, no matter how hot she makes him. It would be a sin! This is conflict?

When the tables are turned and Kaia saves Eben, he throws a hissy fit worthy of any diva. His reasoning? She put herself in danger to rescue him! Since saving Kaia’s teenaged butt is Eben’s one job in this book, no doubt he felt rather usurped. But he still came across as a lunkhead.

There are flashes of humor in Jennie Klassel’s writing. The plot had some inventiveness to it, as well, and the use of Merlin as a catalyst was intriguing. But a clever setup plagued with bratty characters and an extremely forced conflict makes for a clunky, annoying read. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading Ms. Klassel’s highly-rated debut novel, She Who Laughs Last, so maybe this sophomore effort isn’t typical of her talents. Girl on the Run might appeal to a fifteen-year-old, but anyone who’s out of high school will likely find this story a chore to finish.

--Cathy Sova

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