The loquacious Miss Bates is rarely rendered speechless by a romance novel, especially of the suspension-of-belief-HP-variety, but Lucas’s Sheikh’s Last Seduction came close. Presents are romance fiction concentrated; when done well, they are the ultimate escapist fare, outlandish, skirting caricature, but sexy and fun. In the hands of a good writer, like Sarah Morgan, Kelly Hunter, or Caitlin Crews, even their most over-the-top qualities are transformed into sympathetic heroes and heroines, compelling story-lines, and heartfelt romance. When done badly, romance fiction can’t get worse; they open themselves up to ridicule (and that’s only from romance-loving readers). Lucas’s sheikh, Sharif, and his virginal prig of a heroine, Irene, never make their way to our hearts, but inspire, thanks to the sentimentality of the writing and unsavoriness of the sentiments, no more than a snicker … or a whimper … and, believe Miss Bates when she says there’s ne’er a bang to be found.
Sharif bin Nazih al-Aktoum, Emir of Makhtar, meets unemployed nanny, Irene Taylor, at a wedding in Italy. The attraction is instantaneous; and, the banter, even with Miss Bates’s gentlest of critiques, is high-strung on Irene’s part and smarmy-rude on Sharif’s. These two are not warm and cuddly. If it takes effort to like, or sympathize with the leads, or even to find them engaging, the romance narrative is in trouble. Soon thereafter, Sharif is seductively beset by his 19-year-old sister’s companion and has to fire her. Even though he’s a wolf with women, he resists because he’s attracted to Irene, the self-proclaimed, “I’m boring … invisible and dull” Irene. Yes, you are: and a martyr and prig to boot. This leaves him in a quandary: who will serve as companion/chaperone to his sister, Aziza, as she, at nineteen, prepares to wed a forty-year-old neighbouring sheikh-type? Apparently, Sharif never wanted her to marry a man so much her senior, but her head was turned by money and shopping … how can that be when Sharif is a gazillionaire and buys her anything she desires? This is only one of many nonsensical aspects to the plot, but these clunkers can’t compare to the odious characterization of hero and heroine. Suffice to say … tara! he has an instant companion-hire in Irene. Irene, in turn, concerned about her alcoholic mother and promiscuous sister, whose treatment of her rivals that of Cinderella’s at the step-sisters’ hands, takes the job to help them, send them money, to rehab, and generally redeem their soiled selves. Ugh.
Irene is overwhelmed by her attraction to Sharif, but resists his wolfish ways. This boy will never blow her house down because her virginity is “ironclad” … yes, Miss Bates is quoting, folks. Irene is holding out for a man to love her, marry her, have babies with her … and she defines herself by her virginity. Though tormented by unfulfilled desire, Sharif comes to see it her way, notes her “purity” and “angelic nature” ad nauseam. Nevertheless, by adhering to Peyton-Place-like double standards, he also recognizes the vamp in her, witness what he says about her presence at the wedding, “the angel by the lake,” “the houri by the lake,” “she seemed from another world … sensual, magical … pure.” But who can resist his killer charms? No woman ever has. Martyred wimp can; this brings on his growl-ly ire and he is short with her, “No sane man would ever want to be your lover. It would be like seducing a cactus.” Ouch. It’s a terrible thing when a reader laughs at a novel and not with, but that last bit had Miss B. in stitches.
Not to worry, folks, because Sharif and Irene make their way to Mokhtar where this insanity continues, except once there we’re made aware of Sharif’s requisite torment. He’s engaged to another; he’s given his word and his country’s security and peace depend on his keeping it. But getting to know Irene, witnessing her purity and goodness day-in day-out, admiring her resistance to his advances, even to the point when his seduction is aborted by his realization of the value of her “ironclad virginity,” thwarts his purpose, makes him question his ironclad honour. Such is the power of the hymen, folks. Now, one thing Miss Bates does enjoy in an HP is the uncontrollable passion of hero and heroine, (even when it results in a secret baby). Not to be found. A desert of passion is our sheikh’s domain. It’s all purity all the time. In one-hundred-degree weather, Sharif steals into Irene’s room like a sheikh-version of Rochester to ask for her help: “Amusement flickered in his eyes as he looked at her long, flannel nightgown, which went up to her neck and down to her wrists … A deliberate choice from all the tight knit camisoles and hot pants her mom and older sister used to lounge in.” Flannel nighties: a virgin can’t leave home without them. (“Hot pants”!? … what is this, 1970?)
But our girl Irene and Sheikh spend time together, forge a friendship, argue over Aziza’s impending marriage and his sacrificing of love for the sake of what he perceives is political necessity. They grow close, intimate … and their unfulfilled attraction rages on. But Irene must not give in to her attraction: “She couldn’t let herself be tempted, not even for a moment. Virginity, once lost, was lost forever.” Miss B. would be tempted to break open champagne and let it cascade down her throat if Irene and Sharif got it on, but ’tis not to be. Irene has another essential revelation, “Irene suddenly wondered if, in spite of Sharif being a powerful, rich sheikh, he might also be a person.” Snort. Our ninny has biological insight and can recognize the species. It is at this point that her compassion and affection are cemented; she loves him. Just as he realizes he loves her; alas, they are not to be. Political expediency rules. Oh, but he does give her a gazillionaire-dollar necklace, which she admires thus: “Unthinkingly, she raised her hand and ran it down the thick, hard jewels.” And that, my friends, is the closest we come to a love scene in this mess. Our Irene is giving, loving, an angel of purity and goodness; she enacts a ridiculous scene, aided by that bane of weak plotting, the deus ex machina, to bring about the HEA. She is spurred by yet another pea-brain revelation, “The man had everything. Except love. Or even hope of love, until the day he died … His last two words were so faint she heard them only with her heart. Save me.” That’s exactly how Miss Bates felt.
Lucas’s The Sheikh’s Last Seductionthe “was badly done, indeed,” Emma.
The Sheikh’s Last Seduction is published by Harlequin Books and has been available since Feb. 18th. It may be found in the usual formats and places.
Miss Bate is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
Miss Bates is rarely enamoured of HP’s “sheikh-themed” novels. Have you read any good ones?