The Last Season, a period novel set in 19th Century England, is a tale that is not uncommon for the time period and setting – spoiled little rich girl defies her father and sneaks away each day to see her best friend, the stable boy, and learn to ride horses, which is strictly forbidden because her mother was killed riding a horse.
Forbidden love is a common theme. Anyone who has read Jane Austen is familiar with the balls of the season when the wealthy young ladies are paraded around hoping to catch the eye of the wealthiest bachelor in attendance. Wealthy parents want wealthy sons-in-law in order to increase their wealth – not unlike an auction really.
These authors, however, throw in a stable boy whose father was a gentleman, accepted in social circles, until he gambled away the family’s fortune and ended up in prison due to unpaid debts. Crispin, unfortunately, only has his father, so most of his childhood is spent in prison alongside his father. Crispin will do anything he can to pay off his father’s debt and rebuild what the family once had. His aunt, who works as a governess, gets him a job as a stable boy. That’s when he meets Cassandra. They become best friends, sharing afternoons riding horses and talking about their dreams. That is, until strategy strikes. Cassandra is thrown from her horse.
The book is somewhat slow in developing the story, but this is where the book starts to get more interesting. Crispin, who is only fifteen, is sent to India alone to find work. He is just a child all alone on a boat for almost a month. Fortunately, he meets the Foresters, a nice couple who takes Crispin under their wing, introduces him to other boys working in India, and helps him find a job.
Judson and Mahfood not only take Crispin’s life into a different direction but also use such vivid imagery that the reader experiences the overwhelming sights, smells, and sounds in India as though visiting for the first time. Before Crispin even gets there, Mrs. Forester tries to describe Calcutta to him.
“It is a place of contrasts – crowded and tightly packed bazaars a stone’s throw from open avenues and marble palaces – stifling heat followed cool monsoon rains…The ports are teeming with all manner of people, Indian and British. Some half-dressed and others in finery to rival any aristocrat and everything in between.”
Then, when the boat finally arrives in India, twenty-three days after setting sail, Crispin enters a world so far removed from England, and not just geographically.
“cacophonous sounds…pungent smells…so many people, teeming like a colony of ants…colors…a dazzling kaleidoscope of color.”
What is most interesting about The Last Season is not how the story ends. Rather, it is the journeys Crispin and Cassandra take to get there. As they grow up so far apart, a not-so-chance encounter takes them back to their childhood and the bond they shared as children – best friends. This prompts secret correspondence with each telling the other all about their lives, including significant others and plans for the future.
The Last Season is more than a romance. It is a story about true friendship, love, and what is important in life. Regardless of the period in which it is written or the circumstances in which the reader finds herself or himself, the messages apply. The themes are universal across time periods and geographic locations as well as socioeconomic status. Everyone can relate to love, loss, friendship, sacrifice, and family. The descriptions of everything from the environment to the dresses the young ladies wear are so rich that the readers need only to close their eyes and open their minds to experience it all alongside Crispin and Cassandra. Starting off rather slowly, the deeper one gets into the book, the more difficult it becomes to put down.