With a name like Monica Burns, I expected some pretty intense love scenes in Kismet. My expectations held true, but despite early fears it would be a physical-based relationship, the book ended with a relatively satisfying love story. Unfortunately, much of the rest was lacking.
Allegra Synnford is a well-known courtesan in England who is traveling to Morocco for her friend’s wedding. Early in her visit, a Bedouin sheik, Shaheen, insults her by offering to trade a horse for a night in her bed. The two set off sparks—sexually and of the argumentative variety. However, when she is kidnapped by the men of a tribe with a violent history relating to Shaheen’s, he comes and rescues her.
Shaheen, who is English by birth and a peer by default, has vowed never to get involved with another courtesan, after he fell in love with one whose betrayal had tragic consequences. However, he can’t help but be drawn to Allegra. After rescuing her he has to keep her with him to prevent his identity from being revealed and putting important peace-making treaties at risk. She certainly doesn’t like being held against her will, but as motivations clear up and the two get to know each other, hearts and bodies begin to win over minds.
The setting was unusual and rather exotic, especially in the England-saturated historical genre. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. But it was nice to take a break and explore the sands of Morocco. For the most part the writer did a good job of describing the culture and setting, but a few things bothered me. First was the vagueness of the power structure and community organization. The second was the lack of religion. The Bedouin, a collection of nomadic Arab tribes, are (from my understanding) Muslim (as was Morocco as a whole, save for the Europeans). I would have expected their religion to be more prevalent, other than a few oblique mentions of mosques. It just felt like something was missing in the representation of the culture.
Allegra and Shaheen have a typical volatile relationship. Early in the book their spats tended to go in circles, and later it sometimes made me uncomfortable. The sexual tension combined with argumentative tendencies and unequal power dynamics set off some alarm bells for me; seduction while the woman is being held (more or less) against her will isn’t unheard of in romance and certainly doesn’t bother everyone, but I wasn’t a huge fan. Eventually things evened out and a strong emotional connection grew between them, and by the end I was rooting for their romance (despite some sheer and unoriginal idiocy on Shaheen’s part).
Both characters have dark pasts- Allegra growing up in a brothel, and the tragedy that surrounded the courtesan whom Shaheen loved. But the author fell into a habit of comparing past to present in a formulaic way: This is the present. This is how it reminded the character of their past. It got predictable.
The story had some great moments between characters, and provided a fascinating (if incomplete) glimpse into another culture. Unfortunately I can’t fully recommend it, but if you find yourself reading it, it certainly wouldn’t be a dreadful experience.