Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91717-8
Historical Romance, 2016
Enslaved by the Desert Trader could push some readers’ hot button, let me say this first: Tahar, our hero, sells the heroine Kiya to the highest bidder. So yes, the title is actually very accurate. On the other hand, there is also plenty of wretched writing, infantile portrayal of “love”, and plenty of historically inaccurate stuff here.
The last is hilarious because the author claims that she has archaeologist colleagues and friends who helped her keep her facts straight. This story is set in 2566 BCE, and yet, Kiya talks a few times about Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great in… oh, 331 BCE. That is an “Oops!” of almost 3,000 years, so if I were her, I’d probably think twice about sending those friends that looked through the facts in this book some lovely Christmas presents this year. Then, there are horses, which were said to show up in Egypt only around 1,700 BCE at the earliest. Silk, said to show up in Egypt only at about 1,000 BCE or so, and even that is up to debate, is also mentioned here. In other words, this is basically an Ancient Egypt Theme Park story, where it’s more about the, uh, atmosphere than authenticity.
Still, that’s not a bad thing in itself, so long as the story manages to reel me in. But no, that doesn’t happen here. Basically, this is the story of Kiya, who dresses up as a boy and toils among the laborers to build the Great Pyramid of King Khufu in order to make a living. Then oops, thanks to a poisonous snake (don’t ask), her cover is blown and she ends up as an expensive good to trade in the hands of our hero Tahar. The author tries to rationalize Tahar selling away Kiya as okay by telling me that Tahar is a sad outsider even among his own people, and he’s so blue, sob sob sob, but come on, we all have our sad stories, so I’d need more than sad little woes to make the romance believable.
But ugh, it’s not believable at all. Kiya exhibits a ridiculous degree of haplessness and naïveté that makes her seem more like a ten year old girl than a romance heroine. Basically, she sees Tahar’s hot thighs, bulging loins, and ooh, she can’t get him out of her mind, even if she’s basically goods for sale where he is concerned. She moans because she feels all hot and randy… when he goes down between her legs to suck out the venom from a snake bite on her thigh. Okay, so maybe she’s like this blow-up doll designed to be an easily orgasmic ten-year old girl, if that’s not already creepy enough. There is no realistic romantic development. She thinks he’s hot, she can’t get him out of her head, so it’s love.
And then, our heroine can’t do anything right. Everything she says or does invariably leads to her into danger or distress, so she is always in need of rescuing. Thus, I have no idea how the heroine managed to survive on her own – from page one onwards, she’s a Calamity Jane type whose only reason to exist is to be rescued. Tahar vanishes for a big chunk of the story after ditching her with King Khufu, which doesn’t make the romance any more believable. And for emotional conflict, it’s a repetitive pattern of Kiya working herself into thinking that what she and Tahar have is true love, only to learn that he’s still going to sell her away, before going back into “Oh! My mommy warned me that men would make a slave out of me if I let them, why didn’t I learn?” mode. Well, she never learns, because this pattern repeats itself several times before before Tahar momentarily exits the story and she has no excuse to continue that nonsense anymore.
If the romance flopping like a sad fish on a beach isn’t bad enough, the author muddles up the narrative by constantly switching points of view abruptly, even within a paragraph. She doesn’t just jump from one person’s head to another, she also jumps from one person’s point of view to an omnipresent point of view before going back to a specific person’s point of view, without any graceful transition. As a result, I feel like I’m trying to read a plodding story featuring dumb bunnies while being seasick from all that head hopping.
In the end, this one is a headache-causing mess thanks to an idiot heroine whose sole claim to fame is that every man wants a piece of her rear end, a badly drawn “I’m sad, so I can’t be an asshole even if I act like it!” hero, subpar writing, repetitive and uninteresting plot developments, wallpaper history, and more. Enslaved by the Desert Trader could have been fun if it had been campy and was so bad that everything became so good as a result, but alas, this one is just boring and joyless instead.