The Cobra and the Concubine
I really like the title of this book: The Cobra and the Concubine. The cover illustration is nice, too, and the book is action-packed and never dull. And if you’re a person who only likes to read positive things in reviews, you might want to stop there.
It is the 1890s in Egypt, where the rival Bedouin tribes live in constant tension. During a raid, the brutalized concubines of Sheikh Fareeq beg for asylum from the rival sheikh, Jabari of the Khamsin tribe. Jabari takes them into his harem, but when he intends to bed fifteen-year-old Badra, he discovers that she is paralyzed with fear. Realizing that repeated rape at the hands of the vicious Fareeq has left Badra unable to respond, Jabari relents. He assigns one of his warriors, nineteen-year-old Khepri, to protect her with his life. Badra and Khepri fall in love almost immediately.
Five years later, Badra and Khepri are still in love, but a string of big secrets, misunderstandings, and plot contrivances keep them apart. He has asked her to marry him several times, but she always refuses, never telling him that she’s afraid of sex. Khepri then learns that he is actually the orphaned son of an English duke and the heir to a huge fortune. Hurt by Badra’s unexplained refusal to marry him, he angrily turns away from his Bedouin upbringing and travels to England. In less than a year, he becomes a quintessential English nobleman. Now known as Kenneth, he devotes himself to his English life, but cannot forget Badra.
Badra and Khepri/Kenneth meet again and again. They are always overwhelmed with love and lust. But Badra knows she can never tell him how she truly feels – never! – and Khepri, apparently a complete idiot, never figures it out. Things get more convoluted when a bad guy blackmails her into stealing artifacts from the Egyptian dig that Kenneth just so happens to own. She can never tell him! She cannot turn to the tribe for help! She has no choice! No one must know! Not to be outdone, Kenneth has a big secret of his own, one that baffles me – I have no idea why no one seems to know this secret. Several secondary characters have big secrets as well. As a result of all this, the book and its characters are so contrived as to be totally unreal.
The prose is seriously purple, especially the dialogue. On, I swear, page 25, Khepri says to Badra, “Daggers and scimitars hold no danger for me. But you, I think, are deadly…I could fall in love with you. God help me, I think I already have. And that will wound me much deeper than any knife ever could. To the bone. To my very bones.” Later, when she wants to go take a bath, he says “Let me bathe you in love first.” Blech. I found these flowery declarations rather nauseating.
Khepri goes around in a constant, and I mean constant, state of arousal. There’s an excruciatingly embarrassing scene in which we see Khepri at his tailor’s, being fitted for trousers; his swelling manhood causes problems. The author takes a stab at making the conversations between Khepri and the other men of his tribe sound, you know, manly; but they chiefly talk about their d_cks, and come off sounding like a bunch of annoying adolescent boys.
The happily ever-after ending between Khepri and Badra is tenuous. Rarely have I felt so doubtful about a couple’s future.
I’ve enjoyed absurd books before – I’ve shamelessly devoured books that are as relentlessly silly as they are entertaining. This book is silly without being fun, surely a deadly combination. There’s a certain level of pure escapism that may appeal to some readers, but it was all too completely divorced from reality for me. There are lots of better books out there; give this one a miss.