Maisy Yates: Forged in the Desert Heat

Title: Forged in the Desert Heat
Author: Maisy Yates
Harlequin Presents
Published: January 2014
Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One:  The hero was a NON-RAPEY Alpha male. And also a sheikh.
This is easily the best sheikh romance I have read. (Is it weird that I’ve read enough Sheikh romances for that to be a thing?)
Okay. Engaged to the Sheikh of one imaginary country, Ana(lise) Christensen is ransomed by the Sheikh of the neighbouring imaginary country from the thieves who kidnapped her. Got all that? Good.
He can’t just hand her over or let anyone know that the nomadic thieves of his country were the kidnappers, because relations between the two countries are tense to the point of brink-of-war, and he is hugely unpopular in his own country because his uncle–the dissolute and recently deceased former Sheikh–blamed him for the death of his parents, and I guess…everyone believed him? Although not the poorer people; the nomads have stuck by the hero as they jointly defended themselves against the uncle’s attacks.
So the hero, Zafar Nejem, is temporarily stuck with her, and he brings her to the palace while he figures out how to hand her back to her fiance. But not in a rape-y way! Even though they share a tent for a night, his heart is pure
Fiancee or not, a man who would take advantage of a woman in her position was the basest of creatures. (p. 43-44)

That’s from the hero’s POV. I seriously love him. (And we aren’t even at the part where he admits the only book he ever owned was Pride and Prejudice. I may have screamed a little at that point.)

It’s not a one-off, either. He’s consistently non-rapey and also non-seduce-y.

“Sweet young virgins are fine for some, but not for me. I don’t have any interest in seducing women and breaking hearts. It’s not how I am.” (p.75)

There’s the usual blah, blah, desert, blah, blah, flowing robes that goes with the subgenre, including the hilarious moment when the heroine realizes other people have cellphones too:

He reached into the folds of his robes and pulled out…a cellphone.. Ana felt like she’d just been given whiplash. Everything about Zafar seemed part of another era. The man had ridden a freaking black stallion through the city streets, and now he was making a call on a cellphone. (p. 47)

Uh, yes? They have those everywhere now, sweetie.

Does that “a freaking black stallion” sound tonally weird to anyone else? She’s supposed to be a Texan oil tycoon’s daughter, the product of Eastern finishing schools, but her interior thoughts sound…I don’t know, slangier than I’d have expected. For instance, here she is thinking about the fact that her fiance has kept her disappearance out of the newspapers:

 She knew there was probably a reason, and it wasn’t that he didn’t care, just that it was strategy. Like the strategy that Zafar was employing. Greater good and all. She was just one girl. She wasn’t worth uprooting national security over or anything. And stuff. (p.74)

This is a beauty and the beast retelling, so Zafar hits on the idea of having her “civilize” him. He’s been in the desert for fifteen years, so his manners (and tolerance for bullshit) aren’t what they need to be now that he has to claim the throne and carry out diplomatic negotiations. Which is odd, because in spite of that exclusive-boarding-school education she seems to have no idea how to behave around, oh, the leader of a foreign country.

“And yet, I lack charm, you must admit.”

“Yeah, okay, you lack charm a little bit.” (p. 77)

She just blurts out whatever’s on her mind, regardless of his position or the manners of his country:

“It’s just…I name my pets.”

“My horse,” he bit out, “is not a pet. Do you name your cars?”

“No. But I mean…people do. Some men even name their…” (p.78) 

So, anyway. Miss Overinformative there knows about salad forks, so she’s hired. They’re terribly attracted to each other, and their childhood traumas kind of match up, so there’s a lot of longing and throbbing and whatnot. And then this terribly, terribly romantic bit:

Even then, she wouldn’t be for him. All he could ever do with a flower was bruise the petals.

A flower would wither and die out in the desert. And he wasn’t just from the desert; the desert was in him. And his touch would only burn her. (p. 83)

A whole book written in that over-the-top romancelandian language would drive me around the bend, but in short bursts like that I adore it. (Also, dude? Cactus flowers are totally a thing, fyi.)

It’s odd how in Sheikh romances you almost never see words like “Muslim” or “Islam.” It’s like the white robes and horses and camels and tents and sand are all part of the fantasy, and “women are forbidden to do such-and-such in my country” is okay, but it’s taboo to mention this one big reality that goes along with the setting. This book comes closer than a lot of them by hinting that maybe he’s Muslim (maybe it’s Maybelline):

“Fact of life, Zafar, everyone likes bacon. Turkey bacon, by the way, in case you have any dietary restrictions.”

“I am not so devout,” he said. (p. 93)

I wonder what would happen if anyone came right out in a Sheikh romance and said the hero was Muslim?  Would it render the book unmarketable?

Anyway, it ends happily, with the heroine confronting her childhood-induced fears of deviating from everyone else’s plans for her and gently breaking off her engagement. She extracts a very clever promise from her ex-fiance which basically ensures peace between the two countries, and returns to her chosen Gypsy Sheikh (and I am never ever ever given any hint of why he is called that. I mean, presumably it’s because he was nomadic for fifteen years, but…why would you call him a Gypsy if your own culture has nomads? Why isn’t he the Nomadic Sheikh or the Bedouin Sheikh or something?).

Active Ingredients:
Imaginary Country/Kingdom
Non-Rape-y Hero
Ransomed by the Gypsy Sheikh
Maybe He’s Muslim?
Circumstantially Celibate
Other People Have Cellphones?!
Extraction of a Clever Promise

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