The Sheik’s Reward is such a throwback to the old-style category romances of the ‘70s that it almost seems unfair to review it. Here we have all the staples of this mini-sub-genre: Dim blonde reporter heroine who wants to get the goods on a fabulously wealthy, handsome, bachelor sheik and ends up falling for him. And looked at as high camp rather than serious romance, it’s a fun read. But if you’re looking for anything even remotely realistic, this book isn't it.
Financial reporter Frances Callam hits a London casino dressed to the nines in order to attract the attention of Prince Ali Ben Saleem, Sheik of the principality of Kamar. She wants to uncover his business secrets, since the prince is a reclusive type when it comes to interviews. Why she thinks this guy will spill his guts to a woman he’s essentially picked up in a bar is beyond me, but hey, this is Fantasy Land. But Fran vows she’ll act differently from the hordes of women who hang around him. She won’t be dazzled by his wealth and looks, nosiree.
Fran does a good job of playing Pique the Sheik, and he ends up winning a sizable chunk at the roulette table with Fran at his side, whereupon he immediately decides that she will join him for dinner. Fran hangs on to her scruples right up until the moment Ali pulls two expensive necklaces out of his pocket and insists she choose one. Faster than you can say “Gimme the goods”, Fran grabs a diamond necklace and declares that her name is “Diamond”.
Ali, amused and intrigued by this woman who is So Different From Other Women He’s Known (maybe they held out for more than a necklace?), takes her to his fabulous London townhouse for dinner. By now Fran is returning to her Scrupulous Lady posture, and after flirting through dinner, she removes the necklace. A short session of heavy breathing on a nearby couch is interrupted by a phone call. In high dudgeon, Fran decides that Ali has little value for women if he could be distracted by business so easily, and she slips out. This from a financial reporter? How does she think he made fifty gazillion dollars, by buying Lotto tickets?
Fran returns the next day for an interview. Ali, thinking she’s Francis Callam, as in Mr., is shocked and angry that she’s toyed with him. She’s indignant; he’s an arrogant chauvinist. She points out that his own mother was English and believed in equality; he replies that no woman is the equal of a man and they only serve one purpose. He boots her out. She returns disguised as a maid. Ali, who for all his blustering seems to have the brains in this pair, recognizes her at once and confronts her while she’s going through his files. At this point, he’s so interested in her that he insists she accompany him back to his home, where he’ll grant her the interview she wants.
From there, the book pretty much descends into long, flowing, overstuffed descriptions of Ali’s fabulous palace, Fran’s fabulous apartments, her fabulous wardrobe, etc. Pat fantasy and no doubt entertaining for the wide-eyed reader of the early Seventies, but dated in the extreme in 2001. The characters are stock and Ali is little more than a cardboard playboy. His “I have no use for women other than in bed and I’ll never truly love anyone” shtick is so old it creaks, and Fran alternates between protesting loudly at her treatment and then swooning in Ali’s arms. There are boatloads of servants, a harem of sorts, silken tents under desert skies, yadda, yadda, but there’s precious little to care about in these people or their tale, although you may grin a lot.
A bright (albeit short) moment occurs near the end when Fran finally manages to make her point and bring Ali to his knees, but it’s so long in the coming that many readers will likely lose interest.
The Sheik’s Reward caters, I believe, to readers who like their fantasy ladled on in heavy doses and don’t care much about the story because they already know how it’s going to play out. In that respect, it will likely work just fine. For readers who expect more realism, treating it as high camp may be the kindest way to approach this book. Then at least one can grin at the story rather than groan.