Author ~ Tara Lain
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 25th November 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
A Pennymaker Tale
Young Snowden “Snow” Reynaldi is brilliant, beautiful, and alone. Though he’s shy, weird, and tolerated by the NorCal University students because he’s a renowned whiz at chess and helps put the school on the map, that doesn’t keep him from dreaming of the object of his desires: Riley Prince, championship quarterback.
When Riley needs a physics tutor, Snow jumps at the chance, and their relationship heats up—but Riley has to come out of the jock closet to get anywhere. Meanwhile, Snow’s one true friend and mentor, Professor Kingsley, marries a woman who secretly wants the chess tournament glory and money for herself. Soon after, the professor collapses and Snow finds himself underwater—literally. In a car!
Seven frat brothers from Grimm College rescue Snow just in time for his life to get even worse, and Snow discovers the one relationship he always wanted slipping away. With evil looming at every turn, Snow must survive if only to prove he’s the fairest of them all and regain the trust of his handsome prince.
This book is a remarkably well-written gay fairy tale. As the newest installment in the Pennymaker series, Ms. Lain offers us her unique, radical reimagining of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a gay romance with just the right quotient of tongue-in-cheek. She’s good, really good. So good that she transformed this aging curmudgeon into a born-again fan of the fairy tale.
“Driven Snow” is not the classic Snow White tale from your childhood. The Grimm Brothers are, most likely, spinning in their graves. Although obviously intended as homage, Ms. Lain doesn’t stick to the script real well (thank heavens!), but freely exercises her right to invent and embellish to the point that the original tale serves sort of as a rough outline, a framework on which her fertile imagination runs riot
I must admit, I read the whole book with a light heart and a smile on my face, enjoying every moment of this outlandish page-turner. Even attempted murder, kidnapping and standard memes galore did not detract from my thorough enjoyment of this book – and the sheer charm of it. Suspend your disbelief, people; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The main character is a brilliant and beautiful young man, Snowden (“Snow White”, get it?) Reynaldi. He’s a gorgeous college student, with a face so beautiful it’s almost feminine, and a long, thin, sultry body that complements his considerable intellect. He’s a physics major (and genius), but no princess. In fact, he’s the anointed King of Chess. How appropriate, as chess has always been referred to as the “game of kings”. He has vanquished every challenger, destroyed renowned chess masters with only a move or two, and bested a roomful of opponents in one fell swoop. He’s also no shrinking violet. He is revered at his university (NorCal) for putting them on the map, the way football stars are venerated at other universities.
In short, Snow is a brilliant, talented, beautiful and endearing young man without the social skills he needs to combat his loneliness. He’s also gay. He’s not a virgin, but he’s never had a relationship and one does not appear to be on the horizon.
Snow is scheduled to participate in (and favored to win) a major competition, the Anderson International Chess Tournament. A victory brings endorsements, fame, and a life in the fast lane, none of which holds any interest for Snow. He’s already inherited his parents’ sizable estate when he lost them as a very young child. He lives in an unfurnished high-end luxury apartment paid for by some generous foundation. There’s really nothing he needs, except to make Professor Kingsley, his chess coach, physics professor and surrogate father proud.
However, thing are about to change, with the introduction of Snow’s potential Prince Charming. Snow’s been lusting after Riley for ages. But, of course, Riley’s not available. He’s the quarterback! He’s straight, isn’t he? Well, he’s got a beautiful girlfriend who’s always on his arm. He’s a jock, a fratboy, and homecoming-king-to-be. He is surprised, however, to see the “dumb jock” watching his chess matches with rapt attention. He obviously knows what he’s watching, anticipating strategies and shaking his head in approval or disapproval at the players’ moves, and is usually right. He applauds Snow’s victories with enthusiasm and ear-to-ear smiles. He’s also the knight-in-shining-armor who saves him from a vicious gay-bashing when Snow and his friend have the temerity to try to attend a party at Riley’s jock frat.
Well, our erstwhile King of Chess will soon have the opportunity to find out how smart Riley is. The football coach asks Professor Kingsley for someone to tutor Riley in physics. If he fails his next physics exam, he goes on probation and loses his eligibility to play, right before the championship game. Of course, Snow ends up doing the tutoring. It works. Riley gets it, with Snow teaching physics with real-world illustrations instead of abstract mathematical principles.
This is, of course, a fairy tale, so the jock turns out to be gay, kisses the nerd, and they fall in love. All is good, right?
No, we still need an evil stepmother, who appears in the person of the hot, but smarmy, Anitra, a second-rate chess player who ends up marrying Snow’s beloved professor Kingsley. Snow’s almost preternatural gift for sizing up his opponents is running at full-bore, questioning this young woman’s interest in the older Kingsley, who seems to be bewitched by the younger woman. What is she up to?
We all soon find out, as terrible things start to befall our beloved hero. Kingsley has some kind of near-fatal stroke and is hospitalized in a coma. Snow is slandered by false accusations, his trust fund cut off. But that isn’t the worst of it. The worst is that Riley doubts him, for just a moment, seriously considering the possibility that the accusations might actually be true. Yet even that pales in light of the first serious attempt on Snow’s life. He survives it only due to his quick wits and the assistance of the seven dwarfs. These are not your stereotypical seven dwarfs. First, they’re all tall, good-looking, smart and gay. They’re all members of the Iota Pi fraternity, including a medical intern, a Neanderthal thug with a genius IQ, a budding ballet dancer, among others of various distinctions. They all live together in a spectacular farmhouse/mansion on the shore of the lake in which Snow almost drowned. They pulled Snow from the lake, dried him off and put him to bed. Sound familiar?
Something’s missing. Don’t we need a Fairy Godmother to go with the dwarfs? Wait, there’s no Fairy Godmother in Snow White. Well there is in Ms. Lain’s universe. In fact, it’s the same Fairy Godmother in each of the “Pennymaker” books, none other than Carstairs Pennymaker, himself. He’s no more than five foot tall, dresses in eye-boggling sartorial splendor, and appears to be very wealthy and successful with unlimited friends and associates in high places. He also has a penchant for rescuing promising young gay men and making their dreams come true.
This is a gay fairy tale, so his first order of business is, of course, a makeover. The nerdy chess master is about to become movie-star slick, arriving at the Anderson Tournament to take no prisoners. If he’s going to be an international celebrity, he needs to look and act the part - even if the Evil Stepmother is about to try to kill him at least a few more times.
Finally, Snow sits down with the Evil Stepmother for the championship game. In her desperation to become the richest and most celebrated international chess star (shades of “mirror, mirror, on the wall…”), she is determined to rid herself of Snow. Killing the world’s top chess master in the midst of a tournament is a colossal overreach, and provides a dramatic and exciting climax to this rollicking interpretation of the archetypal Snow White story. Snow’s prince, Riley, redeems himself. Snow is declared the winner. And they all live… well, you know the drill.
I was a bit leery of recounting so much of the story, worried about spoilers. But then I thought “what the heck, we all know how the story ends, right?” And so we do. But it’s not the time-tested tale of jealousy, violence and love that matters in “Driven Snow”, it’s the wonderful writing, the imaginative detail, the smart twists on an old fable, engaging characters you’ll love to love, villains you’ll love to hate, and the gay twist to it all. Above all else, “Driven Snow” is a joy to read. Characters are richly and vividly rendered, with little exposition. Dialogue is (almost) always believable, and when it’s not, it’s because you’re reading a fairy tale, not a Chemistry book.
There’s no way to describe “Driven Snow” without using the word “charming”. This book is a delight, and I keep picturing the author bent over her word processor, grinning ear-to-ear as another clever absurdity morphs from her fervent imagination into committed words on the page. This is not a “serious book”. This is not a “message” book – though all fables, at heart, are allegories, this one included. This book is intended for one thing and one thing only – to deliver pure, unmitigated reading pleasure and the talented Tara Lain succeeds beyond my wildest expectations.
If you’re looking for something fun to read, if you’re into sly cultural references and great writing, you will simply love “Driven Snow”, as I did. Don’t miss this one. It will put a smile on your face. It will make your day.