Today, AAR reviewers Maggie Boyd and Caz Owens discuss The Sheikh’s Mail Order Bride, the second book in Marguerite Kaye’s Hot Arabian Nights series.
Here is Maggie’s summary of the novel:
Constance Montgomery is a dutiful daughter. When her family encounters severe financial trouble, she agrees to be sent off to India to marry a stranger in exchange for a large dowry.
Prince Kadar is a dutiful man. Though he never wished to rule, when his brother dies he steps nimbly into the breach and takes on responsibilities he most definitely doesn’t care for -including the fiancé whose large dowry will mean the world to his kingdom.
Constance’ journey to her groom is interrupted by a severe storm, which shipwrecks her and leaves her injured in the small kingdom of Murimon. Prince Kadar promises to do all he can to see her on her way again but it will take months to sort all the problems out. In the meantime, she is invited to be a guest in his palace.
Constance and Kadar know that duty binds them to other people and that there can be no possible future for them. But being together becomes a delightful torment as each discovers that the other is everything their heart desires.
Maggie: Confession time: I loved The Sheikh by E.M. Hull. Rapey, horrible mess that it is I’ve always enjoyed the look it takes at the culture and landscape of the Middle East. I also have several Sheikh books from the 80s that are favorites – namely Desert Hostage by Diane Dunaway and The Burning Sands by Violet Winspear. Again, what drew me to those books was the look at the culture and history of the lands in which they take place. Do you have any favorite classic Sheikh romances?
Caz: Do you know –I don’t think I do. I’m a relative newbie to romance reading; I only started in a big way maybe 8-10 years ago, so I think that whole sheikh romance thing passed me by! I seem to recall reading the odd Mills and Boon/Harlequin Presents one here and there, but obviously none of them stuck with me!
Maggie: I was really surprised when Ms. Kaye said in her guest blog for AAR, Sheikhen and Stirred, that her Sheikh books were her bestsellers! I was blithely unaware of the Sheikh craze, how about you?
Caz: Same here. I had no idea they were such a popular sub-genre, although I suppose the frequency with which they appeared in the Presents line should have been a clue. I did know that Marguerite Kaye had written a couple of historicals before featuring sheikhs as heroes, although I confess I hadn’t read either of them. As you know, she is one of my favourite authors, but I’ll admit that my first thought when I heard she was writing a series of historicals featuring sheikhs, was “huh?” And then I started thinking that it would be a fairly difficult thing to pull off, given all the issues surrounding religion and the huge cultural differences, many of which still exist. But if there’s one thing she does incredibly well, it’s research, so I knew that the stories would have a strong historical background and that she wouldn’t be sweeping the difficult stuff under the carpet. That said, however, these are romances – something she pointed out both in that blog post and in her author’s notes to this book, so there has to be some element of escapism, that “fairy-tale” aspect she mentioned. And bringing me back full circle, that’s probably why the sub-genre is so popular; a dramatically gorgeous and usually immensely rich man in an exotic setting, with that innate courtesy which is part of his culture. It’s pretty irresistible when you think about it!
Maggie: Yes, that is a very alluring fantasy!
I think one of the characters Ms. Kaye writes extremely well is the classic ingénue. Constance came across that way to me, especially in the early part of the book. There is a scene that takes place on the second day she is in Kadar’s palace where she says, ‘You must think me a very volatile creature, one minute letting my tongue run away with me, the next falling into a swoon over a telescope, and the next bubbling like a—a stream.’ That moment sort of solidified her in that role for me. What did you think of Constance?
Caz: It’s interesting you say that, because I’d have said that the heroine she writes best is the more experienced woman who has been knocked about a bit by life but refuses to be brought low by it. I know she has a strong interest in the position of women in society and especially when it’s to do with legal matters (as shown in her Rumours that Ruined a Lady, in which the heroine’s abusive husband refuses to divorce her, or in Strangers at the Altar, when the widowed heroine has basically been shafted by both her late husband and her father and has no legal recourse). Perhaps it’s because most of the books I’ve read of hers (which isn’t all – yet) feature those types of heroine. But as to Constance… Firstly, I should say that the ingénue is the sort of heroine I usually find it hardest to relate to. That said, I liked the way she gradually comes out from under the weight of all that duty and decides to live her life in her own way and I liked her candour, but somehow the two sides of her personality were a bit mis-matched. On the one hand she tends to nervous babble, yet on the other she is well-versed in something as scholarly and mathematical as astronomy – she’s an odd mix.
Maggie: I think that tends to be the ingénue character overall though. Most combine intense innocence – displayed by stammering, blushing, gushing – with a sharp intelligence. It can be a bit disconcerting.
What did you think of hero Kadar? I’ll admit he didn’t really capture my attention; I thought him a very average and predictable beta hero. Would you agree or was there something special about him that captured your interest?
Caz: I like beta heroes, and I like bookish types – and Kadar is both of those – but like you, I found him fairly unremarkable. He isn’t as charismatic or compelling as Azhar in The Widow in the Sheikh (the previous book in this series). Azhar was much more of an alpha hero, of course, although he has a lot in common with Kadar because of his struggle to reconcile his personal wishes with his duty. And perhaps that was the problem – their dilemmas were too similar, and Kadar’s situation didn’t pack the same emotional punch. There are a few times when Constance sees Kadar as an authoritative, commanding presence, but I never really felt that about him.
Maggie: Exactly! What did you think of their love story/romance?
Caz: Ms. Kaye is one of those authors who can write a passionate love scene in a single paragraph, so that aspect of the romance worked very well. But – again, comparing to the previous book – I didn’t get that strong sense of connection between Constance and Kadar as existed between Azhar and Julia. I also found the frequent “we can’t do this” a bit wearing after the first couple of times. Kadar is quite possibly the most frequently cockblocked hero I’ve read about lately, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor guy!
Maggie: LOL, I hadn’t thought about it that way but yes, he was definitely cockblocked! These books have a fantastical element to them. Ms. Kaye, in her blog, spoke of “inventing and creating a completely imaginary Arabia.” Is that an element you enjoy in the books or does it blend into the background for you?
Caz: While I do generally read historicals set in Europe, I’m certainly not averse to other settings, and I have to say that that aspect of the book appealed to me most particularly. I said above that I know Ms. Kaye to be an author who does extensive research, and her descriptions of the court and court life and customs and of the ‘common’ people outside that rareified atmosphere are so well done that the almost DO blend into the background! I mean that as a compliment – it’s because she makes it look too easy ;)
Maggie: I found it a bit bland and bucolic. Something I’ve always enjoyed about tales set in the Middle East are the market place scenes and here even the souk was tame. I missed the graphic descriptions of the scents, the heat, the noise that many other books have conveyed. Her Arabia doesn’t quite capture the beauty and uniqueness of the land in my opinion.
For me, the book was a B-/C+. I feel that Ms. Kaye’s prose is always superb and she does an excellent job with the general elements of the writing. However, in this novel the characters and love story seemed fairly stock to me. In a romance novel that can actually be a good thing since readers are often looking for the familiar, they want a book they know they’ll enjoy. On the flip side of that, the story didn’t in any way transcend expectations, which is what I look for in a high grade novel. And the fantasy element, since it doesn’t involve complex world building, is almost a negative for me. So, well written, standard romance which is a low B high C for me. What are your thoughts?
Caz: I think we’re on the same page; I’d probably be going for the B-, because I liked the setting and the descriptive prose was excellent. On the downside, I didn’t really connect with either of the protagonists, and the romance, while well-paced, well-written and sexy, was a little disappointing.
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