Never After
by Rebecca Lickiss, fantasy (2002)
Ace, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-00907-7


If you have ever sat through an unprepared stand-up comic's painfully unfunny act, you will understand how I feel throughout Never After. Supposedly a funny parody of fairy tales (especially Sleeping Beauty), this book instead is filled with one-liners and concepts that shoot way off-target. In fact, I don't even find it that funny at all, although midgets, er, vertically challenged people in the world may take heart because Rumpelstiltskin here wins the princess' heart. Yes, just like how ugly men have Ron Jeremy to boost their egos, stumpies of the world now have Rumpelstiltskin here to do the same.

A rather dim hero (males in this kind of stories are always stupid - remember that), Prince Althelstan, has braved his way into a palace surrounded by briar thorns. Now, if he can only figure out which sleeping lady is the princess. All the girls he'd kissed don't wake up. Even more annoying, the only obvious dormant royalty are three princes. Hence the best and only funny part in this whole story:

Athelstan supposed they (the sleeping princes) might be considered handsome by some interested women, but right now he found them hideous and wanted to strangle them.

He decides to ask his cousin Princess (not really) Vivela to kiss the princes so that they will wake and the rest of the castle folks will follow suit (don't ask, this is a parody, not a logic puzzle). Meanwhile, Mazigian, a recently graduated spellcaster, and his two senior partners decide to tag along in search of employment opportunities. They all stumble upon the godmother Urticacea who frankly is blooming insane and makes them do a lot of stupid things to awaken the castle folks.

Note that I said "stupid", not "funny". For a pouting, foot-stomping, spoiled "feminist my ass" heroine, Vivela spends a lot of time being locked in a room trying to spin gold from straw. She takes a lot of crap from everyone around her while whining petulantly that she's woman and hence doesn't need to be taken care of. No, she just takes crap from everybody, that's all. Mazigian is cursed by Urticacea to speak in bombastic jargons that are supposed to be funny, but he just sounds like Stephanie Laurens writing a love scene. Althelstan wanders around, lost and confused, while Urticacea cackles around like an ultra-annoying Bette Midler wannabe that I wonder why no one bitchslaps her into a coma.

The author parodies a lot of fairy tales, but she can't present any innovative form of parody, much less witty satire. More humor misses than hits, the romance doesn't enthrall, the concept of a sleeping prince in a castle of briar (as opposed to a sleeping princess) sounds brilliant in conception but dull in execution - Never After? Sounds like an ominous prophecy, if you ask me.

Rating: 54


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