Lord of the Desert
Gretchen Brannon, an incredibly sheltered young woman from tiny Jacobsville, Texas, is vacationing in Tangier with her friend Maggie before Maggie departs for her new job as personal assistant to the sheik of Qawi, a tiny Middle Eastern nation. When Maggie is called home for a family emergency, she suggests that Gretchen take her job in order to get some excitement in her life. The mysterious stranger that Gretchen meets in the hotel agrees with Maggie, and Gretchen quickly finds herself in a whirlwind romance with Phillipe Sabon – who, coincidentally, is the sheik of Qawi.
Phillipe feels he needs a beautiful young woman in his employ for reasons that would constitute a spoiler. Phillipe and Gretchen are instantly attracted to each other. Gretchen’s innocence pleases Phillipe, and she reminds him of “the one who got away.” Gretchen’s lived a very stolid life, and it’s easy for Phillipe to sweep her off her feet. But as a head of state, Phillipe’s life is constantly in peril, and so by extension, is Gretchen’s.
Gretchen and Phillipe aren’t really fully fleshed-out characters; they’re types, and not elaborate types at that. Gretchen is insanely sheltered and naive, and prone to some spectacularly foolish behavior. Worse, she’s a contradiction. One minute she’s swearing that she won’t look at a man cross-eyed till she’s married, but the next minute she’s begging Phillipe for sex without ever noticing the contradiction. Phillipe is a little more complex. I thought the appeal of sheiks lay in their “foreign” exoticism, but Phillipe is a Christian who wears Armani suits and impresses Gretchen as rather helpless. This was an interesting play on a romance convention, but wasn’t as developed as it should have been. Neither protagonist is fully explored; we learn more about what Gretchen had for lunch than what the two like about each other.
Despite these reservations, I was planning to give Lord of the Desert a passing, if unenthusiastic, grade until some last-minute rotten behavior on Phillipe’s part. With no explanation, Phillipe lapses into behavior reminiscent of other Diana Palmer heroes. When combined with Gretchen’s lack of judgment, my annoyance threshold was crossed. And the conclusion, which appears to feature every hero and heroine from Ms. Palmer’s last ten books, just left me scratching my head.
Still, Lord of the Desert has more going for it than some recent Palmer releases. The sex is sizzling, the hero is more complex than the misogynists Palmer sometimes delivers, and there is plenty of action. Lord of the Desert may please many longtime Palmer fans, but I doubt it will win her any new ones.