A beautifully written story—the sheikh romance for readers who hate sheikh romances. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read in the Mills & Boon Sexy line.
This review is part of the AWW2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.
I’ve never reviewed a Carol Marinelli book, but I’ve tried the author’s work twice; both times were DNF, and I didn’t pick up another one of hers again until I started reading Heart Of The Desert, a sequel to her 2009 M&B Medical, Secret Sheikh, Secret Baby. It’s an absolute keeper.
Georgie Anderson almost had a one-night stand with her brother-in-law, Prince Ibrahim Zaraq, but she turned him down at the last minute and harsh words were exchanged. So when they end up back at Zaraq at the same time, it’s all they can do to be civil to each other.
A series of events finds them stranded in the desert—the desert that haunts Ibrahim and seduces Georgie. But Ibrahim is the third prince of Zaraq, and he’s bound by rules and customs that will never accept Georgie in his life even though each of them knows they may never find anyone else who will understand and accept them so completely.
Heart Of The Desert is a beautifully written book, with a lyricism I don’t often find in category romance—or any contemporary romance for that matter. Forget what you know or think of sheikh romances because this is nothing like that. Despite small misunderstandings and the occasional petulant outburst from each of the protagonists, the conflicts in this story are largely internal and deeply poignant.
One of the criticisms I tend to have about category romance is the lack of subtlety in the writing, and I recognise that this is partly a result of the reduced word count. In Heart Of The Desert, Marinelli resists the impulse; for the most part, the story is almost excruciatingly restrained without being obscure. I’m not sure if this is because some of the events alluded to were covered in the previous book (featuring Georgie’s sister and one of Ibrahim’s brothers). This may be a problem for readers who expect a more straightforward approach to backstory—some details of Georgie and Ibrahim’s past issues remain frustratingly unrevealed—but I freaking loved it. In this scene, for example, Marinelli hints at Georgie’s previous eating disorder while increasing the emotional stakes for both protagonists:
‘I don’t like goat’s cheese.’
‘Neither do I,’ Ibrahim said, ‘when it is from a high-street store. Try it.’ He held it to her mouth and it was a gesture Georgie usually could not tolerate. Despite her healing, still there were boundaries and unwittingly he had crossed one. He held the morsel to her lips, told her what she should eat, only his black eyes caressed her as they did so, and there was, for the first time in this situation, the absence of fear.
Having never been to the Middle East, I’m not the best judge of how faithfully Marinelli captures the subtlety of the culture (fictional country notwithstanding). Suffice it to say that the setting felt well-researched and presents the exoticism of the locale while avoiding the tendency to exaggerate its charms. Marinelli doesn’t ignore the hardships of adapting to a foreign culture, albeit almost solely from a white Western female’s perspective.
Despite the exotic setting—How many of us have been through a sandstorm?—there’s an emotional honesty to the characters that just made me weep. This isn’t just about a sheikh and an ingénue from the West. Georgie and Ibrahim’s story is really about two people who need each other desperately but whose relationship is forever at odds with their obligations to their families and to themselves—something almost every one of us can relate to.
But perhaps what I love most about Heart Of The Desert is that Ibrahim was a continual surprise. When I thought he’d be a boor, he became tormented. When I expected aggression, he showed controlled passion. I was totally in love with him.
It was almost the same as it had once been, this charge, this pull, that propelled him to her, and she wanted to give in and run, to cross the club and just run to him, but instead she stood there, shivering inside as he came back to her, rare tears in her eyes as he bent his head and offered words she’d neither expected nor sought.
And she couldn’t say anything, because she’d have wept or, worse, she’d have turned to him, to the mouth that she’d craved for so long now.
‘Not for all of it, but for some of the things I said. You’re not…’ His voice was husky. He did not have to repeat it, the word had been ringing in her ears for months now. ‘I apologise.’
‘Thank you.’ Somehow she found her voice. ‘I’m sorry too.’
She was sorry.
And then he turned away and she could not stand to watch him leave a second time so she took her seat instead.
The story does have its weaknesses. The use of mysticism of massage to express Georgie and Ibrahim’s deepening connection doesn’t work well. Marinelli tries to do too much with this and it feels painfully contrived—a jarring note in an otherwise restrained book; fortunately, it only happens a couple of times.
I mentioned the petulance, the biggest of which is Ibrahim’s dummy spit towards the end of the book. In this case, Marinelli’s soft touch works against the story because it’s not always clear why Ibrahim is being so combative. Even by the end of the book, his emotional crisis has to be unpacked by the reader based on subtle cues.
The epilogue, while not unexpected, resolves external conflicts much too conveniently and serves to diminish some of the hard decisions that Ibraham and Georgie have had to make. It’s satisfying, but even if not everything had fallen into place I felt that Georgie and Ibrahim would not only make it, but that they’d have a wonderful life together.
Yay or nay?
Heart Of The Desert is a beautifully written story—the sheikh romance for readers who hate sheikh romances. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read in the Mills & Boon Sexy line.
Who might enjoy it: People who love a thrilling, angsty rollercoaster romance
Who might not enjoy it: Skeptics
This book is connected to Secret Sheikh, Secret Baby (published under the Medical line in 2009), which tells the story of Georgie’s sister and Ibrahim’s brother.
Title: Heart Of The Desert (excerpt)
Author: Carol Marinelli
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Australia: 9781742778259 (8/2011)
UK: 9780263886726 (7/2011)
US: 9780373130207 (20/9/2011)
Ebook: 9781742907666 (8/2011)
AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Fishpond | Mills & Boon (publisher) | Other
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Booku | Diesel | eBooks.com | Kindle UK | Kindle US
WORLDWIDE: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository | eHarlequin (publisher) | Library