Queen of Barrakesch
Is it possible for a couple to get married and then fall in love with each other? Delaney Diamond sets out to answer this question in her contemporary romance Queen of Barrakesch, book three in her Royal Brides series. Set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Barrakesch, the novel transports the reader to a land of ornate architecture, delectable banquets, vibrant fashions, and sacred traditions. I was immediately captivated by Diamond’s vivid descriptions of this family-centric Arab-Islamic culture. But, I didn’t fall head-over-heels for the romance protagonists or their love story.
After learning that his father, King Khalid, is terminally ill, Crown Prince Wasim al-Hassan of Barrakesch has only weeks to secure the throne by finding a wife. His friend, Imani Karunzika, a member of African royalty and the Zamibian ambassador to Barrakesch, proposes a fake engagement between them. Such a betrothal would satisfy both the king and Imani’s parents, who incessantly pressure her to find a husband.
When the plan unexpectedly changes, the couple’s fake engagement leads to an actual wedding. Now, Imani fears being stuck in a loveless marriage. Even though the couple is deeply attracted to each other (and once shared a steamy kiss), Imani fervently believes that love must come before marriage. On the other hand, Wasim subscribes to the merits of arranged marriages and trusts that “love can come later.” As Imani settles into her new duties as Queen of Barrakesch, her greatest struggle is admitting her true feelings for Wasim.
Diamond Delaney is a fine writer who has a gift for creating an interesting and engaging narrative world, but her plot choices and character development are less impressive. The first half of the novel establishes Wasim and Imani’s friendship. They are both good-humored, ambitious, and civic-minded individuals whose simmering attraction is kept in check since their ideas of love and marriage are diametrically opposed. I enjoyed the couple’s playful flirtation, Wasim’s easy-going demeanor, and Imani’s headstrong attitude. Unfortunately, the second half of the novel contains an absurd plot twist and protagonists that are inconsistent with the earlier setup. Sadly, Wasim takes an unexpected detour into alpha male territory (i.e. powerful, possessive, and aloof) that is extremely disappointing. And Imani becomes quickly compliant once she gets a taste of Wasim’s prowess in the bedroom (which isn’t very detailed, but she is supposedly enthralled). In fact, the couple’s short journey to finding love feels a little hollow and appears to be heavily based on physical attraction and sexual compatibility.
I feel as if more internal conflict could have been explored. Instead of using melodrama to raise the stakes of the story, Diamond could have deepened the reader’s engagement by utilizing Imani and Wasim’s religious differences to create conflict. (Imani is Christian; Wasim is Muslim.) However, their faith has surprisingly little bearing on their relationship. And there seems to be very little concern about a Christian queen ruling over an Islamic country. Barrakesch is not established as an extraordinarily progressive Middle Eastern nation and the tolerance to this situation, while refreshing, is curiously unexplained.
Delaney Diamond’s Queen of Barrakesch definitely satisfied my wanderlust to ‘visit’ an exotic locale, albeit a made-up one. While the novel delivers entertaining escapist fiction, it didn’t appeal to my particular romantic sensibilities. But, if you’re a reader whose heart skips a beat over alpha male rulers and resistant heroines who easily submit, then you may gladly overlook the novel’s flaws.