July 2008, Series Romance
Sil Desire #1884, $4.75, 186 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373768842 Part of a series
I've avoided sheik books in the past, primarily because, like cowboys and vampires, sheiks are just not my fantasy. I picked up The Desert Lord's Bride because I wondered if it wasn't a little unfair to completely dismiss the sub-genre as "not for me." After reading it, I knew the sub-genre was not for me, and I couldn't help wondering why it appealed to anyone else either.
Shehab Aal Masood, a prince from Judar, is in a difficult spot. The continuation of Judar's monarchy and the entire stability of his political region depend on his marriage to Farah Beaumont. Farah is the promiscuous mistress of a rich American, and she's also the daughter of King Atef Aal Shalaan, from a neighboring country. Shehab intends to do his duty, but he's sure he won't like it. Farah may be beautiful, but inside she is cold as stone. So he'll seduce her, marry her, knock her up, and then go about his not-so-merry way, knowing that he can never find true happiness.
Shehab arranges to meet Farah at a party in L.A. They fall in love instantly. Or they fall into something anyway. To make a long story short, she gets champagne all over herself, flees into a garden, nearly attacks Shehab in her haste to get his clothes off, gets photographed by paparazzi, and gets in his private plane and flies to Judar. Without a passport, or a change of clothes, or a toothbrush. Or common sense. When they meet, Shehab gives a fake name and pretends that he is merely a powerful financial magnate. Farah can relate to this, because despite the fact that she has the street smarts of a three year old, she works in high finance too. Bill, the old guy she is supposedly boffing, is really her boss, and their whole relationship is a charade. Why? Best not to ask.
They arrive at Shehab's palace, where Farah is bathed in luxury. Though foreplay and silly innuendo abound, he really wants to make her wait for actual sex. Eventually, Farah risks her own life to save him during a scuba diving excursion. Convinced of her love and lack of guile, Shehab finally takes her to bed. He feels guilty, but he knows that he can't tell her who he really is...yet.
You can probably see where this is headed, and you'd be completely right. It goes exactly where you think it would, right down to its ridiculous and inevitable end.
As I was reading the book, I couldn't help hearing the words "Too Stupid to Live" echoing in my ears. When I first started reviewing romance, lots of heroines were too stupid to live; it was practically an epidemic. In recent years, you just don't see it as much. As a community (of readers and writers) we've mostly moved beyond that, I think. In case you are really missing those TSTL heroines, look no further than Farah. Let's see. She gets on a plane with some guy she doesn't know, after half an hour's acquaintance. She apologizes often when she upsets him - which is usually when some glimmer of common sense peeks through, and she doubts him for a moment. She agrees to all kinds of crazy crap, and doesn't even bother googling the guy (and yes, she has internet access). The kicker? She doesn't bother with birth control either. After the inevitable happens and she finds out who Shehab really is, she runs away and he comes to her. She thinks, "he still didn't realize. Or he was still trying to bluff his way out of it? He probably thought he could. She was too stupid to live, after all. She'd proved it for six long weeks." Is it better if the heroine is TSTL and knows it? Not much.
But let's not give Shehab a free pass. He's a scary, controlling ________ (rhymes with smasshole). He feeds Farah, bathes Farah, and makes choices for Farah. He also threatens anyone who harasses Farah, and not in a "I'll kick his ass!" way - more in a "I'll take care of him permanently" way. I found their relationship creepy, not sexy. Also, I couldn't bring myself to care what happened to their monarchy. I guess I just don't get monarchy in general, unless it's of the figurehead variety.
The language of the book is also old school, and at times I was almost sure I was reading one of our old purple prose parody entires - possibly a winning one. But it wasn't a joke. Everything is simply over the top. I laughed out loud when Shehab is about to feed Farah something exotic, and she is overcome by the moment: "He laughed. She moaned. At the sound. At the scents of food mixed with that of virility." I'm not sure what virility smells like, but I was thinking a cross between beer, jockstraps, and lawnmowers. And this is hardly the only line of this type.
I came away thinking that one woman's fantasy is another one's nightmare. And I guess you can tell which category The Desert Lord's Bride fell into for me.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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