Desert Isle Keeper
A Retro Review
originally published on September 10, 2015
This is easily my favorite book of 2015. What makes it absolutely perfect to me are the likable, intelligent characters, the superb handling of the subject matter and the excellent writing.Most people I have recommended it to have loved it as well, which sort of doubles my pleasure. I hope this review will introduce it to a whole slew of other readers who can enjoy it.
Ildiko is the niece of the Gauri king, daughter to his dead sister. Her relationship makes her an important noble woman but not so important she can be married to the heir of another kingdom. Her use in regards to marriage must be one that is carefully thought out. She isn’t treated badly at the palace but nor is she treated as family. She looks forward to having her own home and waits patiently for the king to pick a husband for her.
Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, is a second son to the King with six nephews standing between him and the throne. He likes it that way. A people of fang and claw, the Kai court is a dangerous place with the most dangerous person of all being Brishen’s mother the queen. Being the unnecessary prince means Brishen can spend his time at his own home, protecting the kingdom’s borders and staying far away from the politics of court. He knows some day he will make an alliance to benefit the kingdom but is in no hurry for marriage.
Brishen and Ildiko’s non-importance to the marriage mart changes when the Gauri and Kai sign a trade agreement. The two kings determine that the union of Brishen and Ildiko will serve as a nice symbol of unity to their people.
There is a slight problem with the plan. The Kai are ugly to the human Gauri. Their skin is grey and slug like, their eyes golden, reptilian orbs and they have long claws which can eviscerate a human on the edge of their fingers – not to mention a mouth full of pointy fangs! The humans are ugly to the Kai – their eyes and flat teeth remind them of nothing so much as a horse and their coloring looks like that of a mollusk. It would be easy for the couple to jump away at the sight of each other. That’s not what happens.
Idilko knows everyone at court feels sorry for her as she gets dressed for her wedding. The advice of many is to only let Brishen into her bedchamber in the darkest night and to spend as little time with him as possible. She has no intention of behaving in that manner. She does, however, intend to listen to the “sympathizers” as little as possible. To that end, in the hour before the wedding, she heads to the royal gardens for some peace and quiet.
Brishen has the same problem with his “well-wishers”. Tired of sympathy, he heads to the gardens even though the bright sun is difficult for him. There he encounters a young Gauri woman. An apparently brave and gracious one for she shows him a shady spot in the garden and converses amiably with him until she is called back to the palace. When he hears her name, he finds himself hopeful regarding his marriage for the first time. He heads to the bride’s chamber to check if the young lady is indeed his intended.
She is. The two find the marriage ceremony and reception far easier thanks to their newly formed friendship. As they travel back to the lands of the Kai both begin to truly appreciate just how lucky they are in their marriage. But not everyone agrees.
What makes this romance great is the characters. Idilko is a practical, cheerful person who always knew she would make a political match and determines to make the best of it. She does just that. In spite of her gut reaction to the dangerous looking Kai she is friendly, kind, accommodating and gracious. She makes a favorable impression on her husband’s people with her willingness to adapt to their ways and make this marriage work. I have to say this was just such an incredibly refreshing attitude toward an arranged marriage. These things were often done for politics or monetary gain and the children were raised to expect it. Reading a book where intelligent people showed how that situation could be made to work was a complete treat.
Brishen is the most perfect beta male I have ever read. He is completely competent in battle and is an excellent leader of men. He is protective of his lands and his kingdoms and he immediately counts Idilko as one of his own. But he has no need to prove himself as top dog all the time and is as ready to compromise as he is to fight. He is also kind and intelligent. He too knows the importance of this marriage, accepts it as part of his duty and determines to make the best of it. He does his very best to make Idilko comfortable with his people and familiar with their customs. I was extremely grateful for how he handled the wedding night. He asked outright if she would prefer to wait and respected her desire to do so. Their physical intimacy kept pace with their emotional intimacy, which meant when they made love they didn’t just have sex. There was a depth to the physical act that added a wonderfully sweet heat to the tale.
Another element of the physical relationship that I loved was how the question of attraction was handled. Brishen and Idilko are both incredibly attractive to their own people. Brishen finds himself jealous of human men on occasion because they see – and respond to – his wife’s beauty when he himself can not. That is because to each other, their physical appearance is repugnant. Yet as they begin to see the whole person their emotions change how they view each other. That’s romance to me in its very purest form.
The old saying “there is nothing new under the sun” is certainly true of science fiction fantasy tales. There are few plots that haven’t been done before, few elements that haven’t been used in stories too numerous to count. Brishen and Idilko’s world has echoes of worlds from other novels but the author wisely doesn’t try to awe us with this aspect of her tale. The setting fits into the background neatly, as it is supposed to do. When things need to be explained there is no big info dump to wow us with how thoroughly the author knows her world; simple explanations are given and we move on with our story.
A romance that truly captures the experience of falling in love this short book reminded me why I love the genre. I recommend it to anyone looking for a truly romantic read.