Sharon Kendrick: Monarch of the Sands

So, Sheikh week continues. I may need detox soon. Also my husband, hugely amused by the titles of the categories I’m reading, keeps bringing back more of them.

Title: Monarch of the Sands
Author: Sharon Kendrick
Harlequin Presents
Published: February 2012
Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: Okay, first of all, Sharon Kendrick wrote The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl, so I was braced for…pretty much anything. But this one was over-the-top in traditional vintage-Harlequin style, sans lizards.
I love that cover image, possibly more than I should. I like her dress less every time I look at it, but everything else is perfect.
Okay, so: the heroine, Francesca (Frankie to almost everyone) has a huge house, a tiny income, and an obviously greedy-bastard fiance:
And didn’t that only reinforce Simon’s increasingly urgent suggestion that she sell the family home and the valuable land on which it stood? (p.9)

The reason she owns a valuable house and HUGE TRACTS OF LAND is that her now-deceased father, a scientist, was responsible for the discovery of oil in an imaginary kingdom, and the Sheikh of the kingdom rewarded them with the land. So Francesca has grown up knowing the Sheikh’s son (the current Sheikh), whom she adored and hero-worshipped whenever they swung by England to visit her father.

Frankie was a shy, mousy, geeky girl, scorned by her schoolmates and unschooled in the feminine arts of dressing attractively and wearing contacts, so once her father is dead she’s easy prey for Bastard Simon. She also thinks in homonyms:

The peeling of the doorbell galvanised her into life–and as she rushed to answer it she thought that wasn’t the only thing which was pealing. The walls badly needed painting. (p.9)

That’s…kinda weird, but I suppose it’s no stranger than the hero’s ability to check out both her front and back when she’s standing in the doorway and he’s outside on the doorstep:

He wanted to ask when had she developed such an amazing pair of breasts and a bottom which was curvier than a scimitar? (p.11)

Maybe we’re meant to picture her posing kind of side-on against the doorframe, like a teen girl taking a selfie, but that seems out of character for a shy, geeky heroine. Which she still is, inside, even if outside she’s been made over by bastard Simon:

He’d changed her from the geeky young woman who had walked so hesitantly into his life and made her into someone he wasn’t ashamed to be seen with. (p.35)

OUCH. Although the whole thing with Frankie being uncertain of her attractiveness, and having had a scientist father but no discernible job skills, gives this book a very vintage Harlequin feel.

The hero, Zahid–who is now the Sheikh–develops an instant case of sudden celibacy to signal his growing, ahem, attraction to Frankie.

Even when his sometime Russian lover Katya had arrived the other night–wearing nothing but a fur coat and a pair of tiny, crotchless panties–he had sent her away without making love to her? (p. 64)

So if she’s his sometime Russian lover, what is she the rest of the time? His Greek lover? His French lover? Do any of her other incarnations involve less cliched tacky clothing?

I was prepared to be totally on Zahid’s side here. I mean, Simon is a rat-bastard, who hired Frankie (and got engaged to her!) in order to get at her house, plus that whole “she wasn’t good enough until I made her over” thing was AWFUL, right?

Whereas Zahid takes them out to dinner, assesses the awfulness of Simon, has him investigated, presents Frankie with proof that Simon is horrible, and then…offers to create a job for her. Wait.

She initially turns him down and goes stomping off to confront Horrible Simon, but then changes her mind and takes Zahid up on the job offer, whereupon he…tells her he needs to buy her a whole new wardrobe.

Did he protect her from the truth, or did he give it to her straight? Zahid’s mouth hardened. Hadn’t she already been lied to enough by one man? And she would never learn about life’s harsh realities unless somebody taught her. He looked her straight in the eye. ‘There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, Francesca–other than that it’s cheap. He gave her a regretful shrug as he reached out to pick up the phone. ‘And I’m afraid that I don’t do cheap.’ (pp.70-71)

WOW. I get that I’m supposed to be impressed with his honesty in contrast to Simon’s dishonesty, but what’s actually coming across here is that she’s found yet an other bastard to teach her the valuable lesson that she isn’t good enough.

Luckily now that I hate Zahid it doesn’t come as a shock when, after they have dinner with his brother, he goes off on her for having had 1.5 glasses of wine and wearing a dress that he bought but which he now finds inappropriately…attractive.

‘Is this the way you behave when you go out for dinner with a man?’ he demanded. ‘Quaffing wine by the glass and wriggling around in the back of a car with a dress which looks at least a size too small?’ (p.84)

I absolutely HATE HIM but I am still amused by ‘quaffing wine by the glass’ because dude, what the fuck is she meant to drink it out of, a thimble? Also, she “quaffed” exactly one and a half glasses before he stopped her. Plus the “wriggling around” she’s doing? That was her attempting to rearrange her skirt–which, we are told, is ANKLE-LENGTH–after he barks at her to cover her legs. Which bewilders her, because only her ankles are showing. Which brings me back to my main point: I HATE HIM.

But he can’t help it, you see, because he is experiencing lust. No, really, here’s his explanation for how cruel and insane he’s been all evening:

‘It’s just that you have grown up into a beautiful and very desirable young woman–and I’m finding it difficult to know how to react to you.’ (p.91)

Also he thinks she isn’t a virgin, because she was engaged. Everyone knows you can treat non-virgins horribly, right? OMG I HATE HIM. He’s so MRA/PUA-ish that he’s got a metaphorical fedora on.

‘The trouble is that you’re no longer the innocent little girl I remember,’ he observed. ‘You’re a beautiful and experienced young woman who’s just come out of a bruising bust-up.’ (p. 93)

So he takes her away to his imaginary kingdom to give her a made-up job transcribing his father’s journals. She gets to see him in white robes, and suddenly is hit with the reality that he is a Sheikh. Then it gets even more weird because gosh, he has a cellphone!

–and beside her sat Zahid, his powerful body swathed in white silk, incongruously speaking into a mobile phone in his native tongue. (p. 99)

This is the second book I’ve hit now where the heroine finds it strange that the Sheikh hero has a cellphone. Memo: you can find freaking cellphones ALL OVER THE GLOBE, and the richer the guy you’re with, the more un-surprising it should be that he has one. Really. Get over it. I once saw the wife of a Band Council chief step outside after a funeral to take a call on her cell, in traditional-ish dress, and that was TEN YEARS AGO so your time for being startled that other people have cellphones is officially over, okay? Please.

He’s still on about the not-a-virgin thing:

She was wearing white–pure and virginal white–and he felt his body clench with instinctive jealousy. Did she not realize the bitter irony of her choice–she who no longer had the right to wear the traditional hue of innocence? (p. 103)

Creepy AND hypocritical, since he’s wearing white robes and whoring it up with women who’re sometimes Russian, but whatever. In its favour, the book is aware of the horrible double standards. The heroine is perturbed that her maid can’t go to university (women aren’t allowed to, in the imaginary kingdom) and that she can’t drive a car (ditto). So the book is trying to come to grips with the rampant inequalities.

But the hero, being horrible, takes Frankie’s interest in expanding the rights of women in his country as–wait for it–a sign he should bone her.

Who was he trying to protect by not making love to her–when she was clearly a feisty woman who had made it plain that she despised inequality? (p.120-121)

I’ll just wait here while you reread that a few times and let the sheer awfulness sink in. This man is the HERO.

So, they have The Sex and he realizes he has made a mistake.

Urgently he thrust inside her–but the warning bells rang too late. It happened before Zahid properly realised what was happening–before his disbelieving senses could piece together all the facts. The brief barrier. The momentary resistance to his deep thrust before he broke through…. (p. 128)

That entire scene is funnier if you imagine literal warning bells going off. It also helps if, like me, you misread ‘brief  barrier’ as ‘barrier reef’ and are temporarily at a complete geographical loss.

So. The Sheikh is displeased that he has de-virginated a woman he cannot marry because she is foreign.

And to make matters worse she had given him her virginity–the greatest gift a woman could give her lover. (p. 137)

Okay then. SO he makes her his mistress for a while, but Frankie–who is in love with him for reasons that utterly escape me–decides she has to end it before they get bitter and jaded, and walks away. Well, flies away really, since she returns to England.

But lo! He realizes he loves her too, and that he can change the laws so that he can marry her after all. He shows up at her house on Christmas Eve to tell her this.

Frankie has enough backbone to hold out until he promises to reform the laws around the whole driving-and-university situation too, because she will not live in a place where women are treated that badly. So I like her for that, even though it smacks of “you need a foreigner to fix your backward country for you.” Because while I don’t know what the solution is to inequalities in Middle Eastern countries, I’m pretty sure ‘marry more Englishwomen’ isn’t it.

Active Ingredients:
British-educated Sheikh
Imaginary Country/Kingdom
Desperately Poor Heroine (Orphaned Variety)
Deceased Scientist Father
Horrible Fiance
Friends to Lovers
A Girl Called Frankie
Not Like the Other Girls
Suddenly Celibate
Hero Insults Heroine by Refusing to Believe she is a Virgin
…Do Sheikhs Wear Fedoras?
Maybe He’s Muslim?
Other People Have Cellphones?!
I Shall Help You FIX Your Backward Land!

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