Enslaved by the Desert Trader
Kiya is disguised as a man to work on King Khufu’s pyramid when a raid scatters the laborers and leads to her capture by Tahar. Tahar wants to go home over the sea, and he knows that selling Kiya will earn him more than enough to buy the boat he needs to get home. But Kiya has no intention of being sold into slavery, and over the course of their road romance adventure, Tahar becomes less and less eager to sell her.
The setting of Ancient Egypt alone got me excited to try this book, plus, unlike most desert captivity stories, the heroine is Middle Eastern (Egyptian, or Khemetian) and the enslaver hero Tahar is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white guy from the Steppes. It’s not perfect, but there’s fun here, especially if you like road-trip romances.
After Kiya’s capture, Tahar tries to take her south in order to sell her. Kiya keeps trying to escape, the Libu tribesmen who took Tahar in want to take Kiya as well; surviving the desert is a challenge of its own – and that’s even before the pharaoh takes an interest in her. As sometimes happens in road romances, the characterizations take second place to the plot and adventure – not that I minded the adventure – snakebites, crocodile-infested waters, tribal warfare, and a royal marriage definitely keep the story moving. I don’t have a lot to say except that I liked Kiya, the survivor. The author manages to make her gradual love for Tahar plausible without it feeling Stockholm-y. I didn’t love Tahar’s backstory about a Khemetian prostitute.
The characters don’t feel modern, but they don’t always feel seamlessly ancient. I liked the setting touches, from Kiya’s shaved head to the oral storytelling traditions Kiya inherits from her mother. I liked the religiosity of the Khemetians, especially the superstition and reverence around the Nile flooding. Kiya believes in the gods, and that working on Khufu’s pyramid as a female was sacrilegious, but I wish the author had done more with her conflicted choice to work anyway. I got sucked into some very strange researching because the presentation of eunuchs in the book didn’t sit right with me. While it seems like our knowledge of eunuchs in ancient Egypt is incomplete enough to give the author some leeway, the presentation of eunuchs in this book doesn’t make internal sense. For instance, both eunuchs in this book are high-ranking priests castrated as adults as punishment for crimes (which I won’t detail for spoilers). If you committed a crime severe enough to merit castration, why should you be trusted with an important government position?
The treatment of slavery likewise has ups and downs. I liked that the author doesn’t sugar-coat the hero’s plan to sell the heroine. Deciding that such a behavior was immoral is a central part of his journey. On the other hand, Kiya vows not to join the ranks of slaves who “followed their owners like dogs, their shoulders slumped, their eyes cloudy and lifeless” , and later is horrified to see guests of the King give slaves as gifts. Again, our lack of historical sources gives the author some freedom, but I didn’t buy dehumanized, perpetually crushed spirits or a heroine shocked by slaves.
Some general issues – a TSTL decision by the heroine to pout her way across the desert and a hero who allows her to do so despite knowing that they’ll both die if they can’t keep a faster pace. Formatting issues, such as page numbers and titles inserted into paragraphs, which are hopefully limited to my e-advance. A striking co-incidence. A sex move in which the hero keeps “his feet planted behind her… twisted his body around hers, and bent low, his lips closing in on her nipple.” The man must have a Slinky for a spinal cord.
But Enslaved by the Desert Trader kept me turning pages. I was happy to be somewhere new with people I hadn’t already read five hundred times before. It’s got enough seriousness to give it some heft, but it never bogs down. Why not make an adventure-filled Ancient Egyptian road romance your next pool read? Just check for crocodiles first.