MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 1-55166-617-0
Contemporary Romance, 2000
I don’t get it. Whenever an author tackles a romance set in a Middle-Eastern country, more often than not she can get all the tiny little details perfect but fumbles when it comes to Middle-Eastern names.
Likewise, here, out hero Phillippe Sabon, ruler of a fictitious democratic Middle-Eastern country called Qawi, may or may not be Christian (Diana Palmer is coy when it comes to religion). His wife is American Gretchen Brannon, whom I presume is not Muslim. And their son is called Ahmed Rashid Phillippe Mustafa. I assume the term “ibni” or “prince of” will be between Rashid and Phillippe, which makes Phillippe’s name to be Phillippe Mustafa. Where did Mustafa come from? A surprise daddy in the genealogy? And why the heck would a Phillippe Sabon and a Gretchen Brannon name their son Ahmed Rashid anyway? It’s like Mr Chiang and his wife Mrs Muthu naming their son Hulk Hogan. I don’t get the logic.
Anyway, that’s my rant. On with the rest of Lord of the Desert. It feels like a romance right out the early 1900s, complete with Casablanca name-dropping and Anglo-Saxon Sheikh imageries. Middle-Eastern romance readers may get offended by the patronizing idea of a Christian, French ruler bringing democracy and enlightenment (Western style) to rural dark Middle Eastern lands, so exercise your discretion. Anyway, Gretchen, the heroine, is an American lass from a small town. She and her friend Maggie Barton are gaping and gawking in their tour of the Brussels airport and the Tangiers. Maggie is taking a job at Qawi, and in her final mission of mercy, decides to take never-been-outside bumpkin Gretchen to some new scenery.
Gretchen the sad no-life no-personality heroine is still in mourning about her mother, whom she has devoted herself to caring for until old mum croaked from cancer. Even when her mother was still alive, Gretchen had no life, and was content to stay at home, arms folded, eyes down. In short, she is just perfect for the life of a Middle-Eastern consort to some royalty. Enters Phillippe, our enlightened sovereign who brings Western enlightenment to rustic, backward Qawi. He is looking for his new employee Maggie, but he finds Gretchen instead. Maggie, that heartless wench, is called home for some emergency, and she leaves Gretchen to fend for herself. Good thing Phillippe finds Gretchen first before Gretchen attempts to cross the Tangiers highway on her own.
She needs a guide. Without revealing his identity, Phillippe persuades her to apply for the position of personal assistant to the sheikh of Qawi (the pervert obviously has “personal assistance” of the south-of-the-border kind in his mind) even as he shows her around. Gretchen is in love, oh oh oh. Conspiracy abounds, and Gretchen, the china doll with the IQ of a doll to match, just can’t stay out of trouble. But so far so good, this is a romance with all the cheese and camp to read while you’re playing your Barry Manilow CD that you will never admit you have even if they pull out your fingernails one by one. Think of all the bad sheikh romances where the actors playing the sheikhs never look remotely Middle-Eastern, think of all those Omar Sheriff fantasies you never have (of course, of course) and Lord of the Desert is the swiss cheese made of your darkest shame.
Then towards the late third, the author has to drop in a silly misunderstanding. Gretchen gets pregnant, Phillippe thinks he can’t get anyone pregnant, and we have the irritating “Who’s da daddy! You’re da daddy! No, you’re da daddy!” nonsense. Just when I thought Diana Palmer has gotten the cheese thing right, she has to put in the usual rancid misogynist nonsense.
Still, really, this one is great inane fun. It’s not high art, it’s not even decent romance, but it sure is a bloody campy hoot of a read.