Harlequin Mills & Boon, £2.89, ISBN 978-0-263-86394-9
Contemporary Romance, 2008
The Sheikh’s Chosen Queen is released under the Harlequin Mills & Boon imprint in the UK three months or so ahead of the Harlequin Presents counterpart in the USA. This is why I get to read this at the time of writing when the book is not yet released in the USA. The equivalent of Harlequin Presents is Modern Romance, which, if this book is anything to go by, is exactly the wrong name for that line as this story is anything but modern. Then again, is there any sheikh romance out there that can be considered “modern”? Hmmm.
Jesslyn Heaton is a teacher in a private English school in Sharjah, a city in the UAE. Once, she had an affair with the then-Prince Sharif Fehr until they broke up and she then discovered that he was engaged to marry Princess Zulima of Dubai all along during the time they were dating. I don’t know why she was so shocked, what with these male members of the royalty in the Middle-East having the right to marry who knows how many women. Anyway, today King Sharif shows up at her school pretty much demanding that she becomes his kids’ teacher during the school vacation. Jesslyn balks at this because she will just die when he touches her because she is so weak and unable to control her libido like that, but the author will throw all kinds of things in the story to make sure that Jesslyn will have no chance to walk away from His Royal Highness here. Oh no, a kid is thrown in jail for vandalism and stealing the school exam papers! She has to get King Sharif’s help to talk to that kid!
In this story, Ms Porter must have mistaken “I have a million neurotic issues” for “I am a complicated person” when it comes to Jesslyn because this character is as flat as a plank. She has no discernible personality. She just has issues after issues plus a fine ability to degrade and delude herself into thinking that she is a person of utter worthlessness. Okay, she is pretty worthless if you ask me, but that’s no excuse, really, for being boring. King Sharif is a typical ridiculous white guy pretending to be a hirsute swarthy Middle-Eastern guy. The plot is nothing more than the author coming up with all kinds of emergency and what-not that forces Jesslyn to be dependent on King Sharif for help and therefore the story feels very contrived. Then, the kids inevitably get trotted out to tug at our modern heroine’s heartstrings. Jesslyn, unsurprisingly, wants to get married and be a baby-making machine. Her big drama is that she can’t be the baby-making machine she yearns to be, hence all her subsequent episodes about her being unworthy of love and other nonsense. See what I mean about how bizarre that this story is published under the Modern Romance imprint?
If this book isn’t dry and boring enough, the author then attempts to “spice” things up with King Sharif’s psychotic mother as well as a big misunderstanding that dragged on for so long because both parties were too stupid to even think much less talk to each other. So now the book is painful to read as well as boring.
But what makes The Sheikh’s Chosen Queen rather noteworthy for an otherwise by-the-number ridiculous sheikh romance is that I get this impression that the author must have been forced at gunpoint to write this story. There are many things about this story that show clearly how little Ms Porter likes her setting. King Sharif and his ridiculous plot device children constantly bemoan the fact that England is so much better to live in compared to their palace in Sarq. (Sarq? A country in the Middle-East called Sarq?) The drama about Jesslyn going hysterical over her darling student ending up in jail is nothing more than a scene to drive home the terrible tyranny of Middle-Eastern laws that are, if you ask this author, so much more barbaric compared to English laws. Ms Porter doesn’t even bother with giving Sarq any discernible Middle-Eastern culture, instead she has Jesslyn calling King Sharif her very own Valentino. And we all know, don’t we, that Rudolph Valentino was just an Italian guy in stereotypical Middle-Eastern pasha outfit?
I don’t know whether to admire Ms Porter or not for not bothering to pretend that her hero is even a little bit Middle-Eastern. This book sees her pretty much telling the readers that everything about the Middle-East sucks and that she knows that her readers are just getting off on the stereotypical and insulting white man’s version of the Middle-East so she’s calling them out with her story here. In fact, one can argue that the ending, with the heroine moving to the savage frontiers of Sarq to start a school that will teach people English, is pretty much the author saying that the heroine will now Americanize the country and therefore Good has prevailed at last. But the story is still boring at the end of the day and the heroine is ridiculously overwrought and way too self-depreciating for my liking. Yes, the end product is ultimately very offensive to anyone who deigns to take this book seriously as some kind of representation of the Middle-East. Then again, I don’t know how on earth anyone is going to take this boring and clumsily-written story even halfway seriously.