Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: The Harlot and the Sheikh by Marguerite Kaye

First a disclaimer of sorts: I've been having some trouble reading romance novels lately. Once, they were my perfect escape, but now, what used to work so well does not. I'm finding it more difficult to disconnect from the real world and slip into these fantasy worlds. But I'm trying.

I selected this book because I wanted something indulgent. Something completely unrelated to anything in my real world. I needed a dirty, sexy fairy tale. The title made this sound like what I needed. I was thinking escape to Arabian Nights or something like that.

I found the beginning of the book to be slow. (But see my disclaimer at the beginning, this could be a me problem and not necessarily a book problem.) The book wasn't grabbing my interest. Too much about the horses, not enough about the characters or any sort of development in their relationship. I was beginning to think the book was entirely too tame for what I was wanting.

But then, somewhere around the 40 to 50 % mark, the book became exactly what I needed.

This is the story of a strong, intelligent heroine trying to move beyond her past mistakes, and a sexy prince, looking to redeem his family name and bring honor back to his kingdom.

After a mysterious illness strikes his prized horses, Prince Rafiq sends for an English veterinarian. Stephanie Darvil arrives in her father's place. She views this as a fresh start, and a way to spare her family disgrace. She foolishly fell in love and allowed herself to be seduced by a man who used her, thus earning her the reputation of a harlot. The prince isn't quite sure what to make of her at first, having not expected a woman to appear to tend to his horses, but her skill quickly wins him over. Rafiq though is having trouble seeing her as only his horses' veterinarian, and the attraction is mutual as Stephanie realizes that there are advantages and an element of liberation to her ruined reputation.

What really won me over with these characters was Rafiq's reflections on how women are treated by society. He's furious when he finds out about what happened to Stephanie, certain there must be a way to punish the man who lied to her to get her into his bed. Also, he becomes aware of how she's treated in her profession, and how she has to work harder than a man to earn any sort of respect. At the same time, he's guilt-ridden about his deceased wife, who married him as part of an arrangement and had to give up so much of what she loved to satisfy a deal made by her father. Suffice it to say, Rafiq is understanding and respectful, reflective and willing to change, as well as being an attentive and skilled lover. This, along with being a prince, makes him just about perfect. Strong women and men who love and
appreciate strong women are essential for me to like a romance novel, and this book does well in that area.

While the book may have started out slow for me, in the end, I really liked it. Great, strong, intelligent characters; angsty backgrounds the characters need to overcome, and some very steamy sex scenes.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

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