Harlequin Mills & Boon, £2.99, ISBN 978-0-263-86410-6
Contemporary Romance, 2008
Don’t ask me how King of the Desert, Captive Bride is already released over here in Malaysia when it’s not yet released in the USA or the UK. Maybe I’m lucky that way. And before you ask, no, the “King of the Desert” in this story isn’t a “captive bride” – male emasculation captive fantasies are probably too extreme for the genteel readers of the oh-so-misnamed Modern Romance imprint of Harlequin Mills & Boon.
We’re back in the desert of Sarq, located between the oasis of Suck and the giant Sucker pyramids. We’re introduced to a second sibling of a bunch of royalties that roam the desert, apparently independent from any governing laws other than their own. If the guy on the cover can pass himself off as a Middle-Eastern man, I believe that makes me Monica Jackson’s long-lost twin sister, but I suppose that guy just has to be Sheikh Khalid Fehr.
Sheikh Khalid Fehr is a nice guy. Or, in the context of this story, an American man with a huge Middle-Eastern penis. I suppose they grow them big in the Middle-East, because I can’t think of any reason why Sheikhs are attractive sex symbols. Khalid believes that his wife can wear the usual clothes that American women would wear and walk around freely. He also spends his time looking up the Web and finding lost Americans in the neighborhood. After all, the Middle-East has a shortage of locals who need his brand of justice, so he may as well look out for Americans in need of his mighty Enlightened Sheikh’s Big Stick of Honorable Justice and Might.
It is via the Web that he comes across the news that American tourist Olivia Morse is missing. He eventually locates her in the prison of a place called Ozr. I know, between Shaq and Ozr, the whole setting feels more like an orc stronghold in a Forgotten Realms campaign than anything else, but perhaps that’s how one should view this story. Poor Liv had foolishly helped to carry the bag of a fellow tourist until the officers found drugs in this bag so she is now rotting away in prison until Khalid shows up and does his part to cement the relationship between the USA and the Middle-East. One thing leads to another and Khalid has to pass Liv off as his fiancée and he has to marry her because, you know, his image, honor, et cetera depends on it.
As for Liv, she’s aghast. Not because she’s going to marry a man from an area where she has just received a taste of hospitality she will never forget, but because she’d like to marry for love. These heroines, I tell you. They are so amusing when they are flailing around announcing to all and sundry that they are braindead. Mind you, this is a woman who says that men in the USA never claim that a woman is “theirs” or that “good women” must never accept expensive gifts from men. Yes, she’s that kind of virtuous girl.
Still, this is not so bad because Khalid is clearly willing to make up for his unforgivable interruption of natural selection that intends to let Liv and her stupid genes perish in a prison in Ozr by vowing to take care of her forever and after. But then this story turns into the author’s soapbox about the inhuman prison and (not-so-)justice system in a supposedly-fictitious Middle-Eastern country and that is when this book loses me completely.
You see, Liv decides that she can’t bear to see the woman who set her up be sent to the prison in Ozr so she has to confess that she’s involved in a drug ring like they accused her to be.
You want me to repeat that again?
I wonder if Ms Porter expects me to give Liv some kind of medal for her… uh, bravery, I suppose. I don’t know, the only medal I am giving this aberrant wretch is one that says “Moron of the Year” and comes with a self-detonating bomb that will go off ten seconds after she accidentally strangles herself while trying to wear that medal around her neck.
Am I missing something here? The author is supposed to be writing about all the lovely things about hot sheikhs and what not, but she’s here ranting and foaming about all the horrible things that go on in the Middle-East. Is Ms Porter aiming for some kind of British irony? It seems quite obvious to me that the author has little love for the Middle-East, so I have no idea why she then goes and sets her stories in that setting. It’s as if she’s telling me, “Here, have your stupid sheikh, but you know what, the Middle-East sucks. They treat women badly. They treat people badly. They suck. They really do. The weather is unbearable. The people there are brutal and the only good guys are those who are clearly Americans who think that their tan make them bloody Valentino reincarnated. Let me see how much I can get away with mocking you by telling you how much everything about the Middle-East sucks because I’m just going to laugh when you miss the hundred ways I’ve denounced your stupid pathetic fantasies and instead have an orgasm just because the hero is a sheikh and that’s all you care about.”
Hey, I know the Middle-East isn’t the most hospitable place in this world. But I personally think it is absurd for the author to go about telling me this again and again in a story that proclaims itself to be a hot sheikh fantasy. The fact that she opts to drive home the message by having the heroine pull off a stunt best described as a mercy killing in the making is the final nail in the coffin. I can try to overlook the soapbox, the fake Middle-Eastern setting, the Caucasian sheikhs, and the cardboard stereotypes of Middle-Eastern tyrants as little Saddams and Osamas, but I cannot overlook a heroine who is, frankly, one of the biggest morons I’ve come across.
Until the point where the heroine pulls off her stunt, I actually thought this book has a more convincing romance and more memorable characters than the previous book. When the heroine decides to slay the competition to the Braindead of the Millennium Award, that’s when this book immediately goes from “pretty stupid but still, pretty readable due to the unintentional comedy” to “full of fail”.