Innocent in the Sheikh's Harem

Marguerite Kaye
June 2011, Regency Romance (1818 Middle East)
Harlequin Historical, $7.99, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373296495

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

I love going to different destinations via a good romance. Something about exotic locales just seems to blend so well with love and adventure. It is especially exciting when it combines a new place with a previous time. The mixing of the past with the foreign evokes for me what lush romance is all about.

Lady Celia Cleveden sets the standard for the practical bride. Knowing she is nowhere near the beauty her sisters are, she sets aside dreams of passionate love for a more pragmatic relationship with an imminently suitable man. She takes a great deal of pride in knowing she will be a genuine asset to his career as a diplomat, having been just such an asset to her father in his career. Her husband's hatred of all things foreign in no way dampens Celia's own enthusiasm at being in the enticing desert land of A'Qadiz. She is utterly fascinated by the people, culture and beauty of this land. Until the night their caravan is attacked while on the way to the Prince's palace.

Prince Ramiz of A'Qadiz would rather not deal with the Westerners, but he is savvy enough to know he must. He is anxious to control the inevitable clashing of their cultures and to that end has invited a foreign diplomat to his home. Watching the caravan from a distance he believes that the milksop sent to him bodes ill for the success of this venture. The man's bride, on the other hand, shows courage, intelligence - and a simmering sexuality. When he is forced to rescue her from an attack by a neighboring kingdom he finds her appeal only grows with familiarity. Will his growing attraction for this alluring young woman destroy all he has worked so hard to achieve for his people? Or will their love unite rather than divide their worlds?

The best part of this book is the location. Ms. Kaye works hard at bringing to life the people and culture of the Middle East. She is very respectful, utilizing Celia to show us the charm and beauty of the country. Too often in romance, I feel as though I am still in 21st century America, long dresses and cravats aside. This book does an excellent job of taking us to its actual venue.

Both Celia and Ramiz are interesting characters. They are a bit standard for a romance - she: Brave, intelligent and feisty; he: Alpha with a soft spot for the heroine - but they both have a bit of dimension to them and certainly fit into the story well. I liked especially that the book showed a variety of English diplomats - from Celia's outstanding father, her husband (who was quite bad at his job) and Peregrine Finchley-Burke, who was a good hearted idiot. History shows that during this time period men got the job for many different reasons, not just skill, and I found it fascinating to see the many faces of the Empire presented by these men to a foreign ruler.

Something I truly didn't like was the author's rendition of Celia's husband. Meeting the demand that the first spouse be truly evil (so we can see how great the hero is in comparison), George was a craven, sexless, boorish cad. For those who hate such things, be warned that we learn in the first few pages that he is such an awful husband Celia is still a virgin when they reach A'Qadiz. The utter destruction of this character left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and pulled the overall grade of the book down.

The book still has many shining moments though. If you enjoy romances with desert Sheikhs or are partial to Harlequin Historicals I think this book would be a good fit for you.

-- Maggie Boyd

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