Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91589-1
Contemporary Romance, 2016
Cultural appropriation is a big thing these days. You can’t even eat sushi without being accused by some random weirdo on Tumblr or Twitter that you are appropriating and disrespecting Japanese culture. Yet, I often find myself bewildered by the fact that some of the most vocal social justice heehaws in the romance community would also at the same time publicly admit that they love and enjoy Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern or Harlequin Presents books. Isn’t that like PETA people screeching at the rest of the world to go vegan while taking selfies of themselves eating raw steak?
I think I know the answer to this apparent contradiction after reading Tara Pammi’s The Sheikh’s Pregnant Prisoner. Books like this one are not appropriating and distorting Middle-Eastern culture for mercenary gains, oh no. Stories of hot American honeypots making Middle-Eastern hunks drool and turning them into all-American inside? That would appeal to the white lady savior of all people of color complex of most of those social justice heehaws, so of course it makes sense that they like books like this. No? Okay, maybe I am reaching, but I am trying to find some worthwhile excuse to justify the existence of such a book.
Zafir Al Masood is the new Sheikh of Behraat. Yes, in this story, “Sheikh” is the title of a ruler of a Middle-Eastern country, which goes against the conventional use of that title, but hey, you can’t accuse Tara Pammi of cultural appropriation in this instance, so maybe that’s the whole point. Oh, and “Behraat” sounds a lot like “taking a dump” in the language of my part of the world, and I like to imagine that that is the whole point too. Zafir is the new Sheikh, although he is an illegitimate child, but by this point, my brain has completely shut down and I think it’s best to just go with the flow.
Lauren Hamby, our New Yorker heroine, comes to Behraat after hearing news of the riots over there. She accompanies her journalist friend, mostly to find out whether Zafir is listed among those who had died and gone on to have sex with all those virgins waiting for them in heaven. (I always wonder – how about the dead women, do they have virgins waiting for them in heaven too?) You see, Zafir and she had sex, lots of sex, sex, sex, sex a while back, but that’s okay, it’s all true love on her part, so don’t you dare accuse her of being a skank. To her surprise, she finds Zafir at the head of a procession, and when she approaches him, he’s like, he doesn’t know her, but whatever bitch, take a number with his PA if she wants to touch his pee-pee. She slaps him, and then she gets thrown into jail for assaulting the new ruler of that place.
Zafir believes that he’s being very kind in letting Lauren rot in jail – he recognizes her, but you know, he regrets letting her tempt him a while back into being selfish, and besides, his people won’t like the idea of their hero sticking his pee-pee into filthy American women. He deliberately avoids her, never calling or writing, but when he learns that she is pregnant with his child, he is furious. How dare she betrays him by not telling him that she is having their brat? Okay, she doesn’t know where he is, but still, it is her fault. He will punish her! Hurt her! DAMN HER FOR TEMPTING HIM INTO BEING SELFISH AGAIN!
Obviously, Zafir is a worthless piece of crap who spends the entire book blaming everyone but himself for his selfish and cruel antics. The heroine spends a lot of time understanding the hero, and in the end, despite some lip service on the heroine’s part that she is aware of the hero’s flaws, the story actually shifts the blame to Zafir’s father. Zafir in the end vows to be devoted forever to Lauren, when just a few pages back he’s still being an unwashed, unwiped rear end of someone who is stricken with diarrhea. I guess this means that the American vagina is triumphant again, having extracted “I love you!” from a chauvinist pig-man after all that suffering and heartbreak, but I can only wonder why this useless waste of flesh is even worth all that effort. She’d be living in a country where women are treated like cattle, with a man who believes that everything wrong with him is someone else’s fault. What’s the point?
The Sheikh’s Pregnant Prisoner is everything one would expect from a story with such a title from such a line, and it is only icing on the cake that the author gets the naming system all wrong and has the brat named in such a way to suggest that he is sired on Lauren the Amazing American Honeypot by Zafir’s father. Oh, if that only that is true – that story would have been a more interesting one than this eye-rolling nonsense.