Sheikh's Ransom is the first of a trilogy about 'Sons of the Desert.' Once upon a time, a bit more than twenty-five years ago, the King of Barakat and his beloved wife had two fine sons, sort of the heir and the spare. Tragedy befell them, and both sons were killed. No heir...no spare. The queen told the king to take his allotment of wives – three more – and get some heirs. He married three young women, and nine months later, he had three sons.
Upon his death, he divided Barakat into three parts, giving each prince his very own kingdom. He made the three sons promise that they would never take up arms against each other or any of their descendants and that they'd always help each other in times of trouble. Each prince was also given a Sign of Kingship, which for our hero, Prince Karim, was an emerald seal, the Great Jewel Seal of Shakur. Legend warned that if the seal were ever lost, the kingdom would be lost.
Guess what's missing?
Caroline Langley has won a trip to West Barakat, where Prince Karim rules. When her fiancé flakes out at the last minute, she decides to go by herself. What Caroline is soon to discover is that her fiancé, a wealthy, older man who wants her as part of his 'collection', is the prime suspect in the disappearance of the Great Jewel Seal. Prince Karim's plan is to keep Caroline as a hostage until his property is returned.
Caroline meets Karim and assumes that he's her chauffeur, her tour guide. The sexual tension is hot and heavy. Caroline is fooling herself when she tries to deny the importance of what she feels for him. We learn that her parents want her to marry the rich old coot in order to feather their own nest. The parents and the fiancé are caricatures of the rich, shallow nothings that we meet too often in literature.
When she does realize that her chauffeur is in reality the ruler of the country, Caroline loses it. She acts so childishly, lying to herself and Karim, that I knew I wanted to get to the end of this book quickly. Caroline lies and says that she's still engaged to the old coot. She's humiliated, theatrically so, that she's fallen for Karim..
Karim questions her about her plans to stay engaged to the old coot. How old is your fiancé? A woman with your passions should not be tied to one whose passions are already faded. Margin note: beginnings of purple prose. In truth, she had been astonished at the marble hardness of his sex. More pp.
Sheikh's Ransom also ignores any cultural differences between this Western woman and Eastern ruler. My guess is that Caroline will prove to be so amenable in her love that whatever Karim does will be fine with her. I was reminded of the early doctor/nurse book where he could do no wrong and her case of hero worship blossomed into adoration. It's almost the same way here with the dashing, handsome, sexually experienced sheikh and the blonde ingénue.
I enjoy 'sheikh' books if the characters are well-drawn, intelligent and not pieces of fluff or he-men flexing their pecs. The late Barbara Faith always wrote a credible story that included cultural differences. While Faith's characters did fight, they had more emotional maturity that do Caroline and Karim.
Knowing that there are two more brothers and two more books, I can only hope that this story line improves. While I do advise that you 'think twice' about Sheikh's Ransom, let's keep our fingers crossed that there will be less fluff, less childish behavior, less sexual preening and more of a good love story in the next two books.