Miss Bates is a loyal reader to certain romance writers because they offer engaging romance about goodness: Liz Fielding, Marion Lennox, Carla Kelly, Jessica Hart, and Kate Hewitt. Their heroes and heroines may be melancholic, mistaken, even a little sharp at times, but they are fundamentally good – decent, caring, and kind. No one is smarmy, no one is mean, and no one dominates. It’s fair to ask if this makes their books, their characters, boring? Miss Bates would argue not because they create characters who are good people with plenty of personality. The dialogue is strong, the inner conflicts are believable, and the romance, well, it’s of the sigh variety. When MissB reaches the end, she is replete with sighs of satisfaction. Such a book is Liz Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess.
The premise is outlandish, but Fielding’s hero and heroine are believably fleshy, in their dilemmas, their give-and-take and back-and-forth of witty banter, serious sharing, charming flirtations, and deepening affection. When we meet Sheikh Bram Ansari, he is “disgraced, disinherited, and exiled.” Youthful shenanigans led his father to disinherit him and put his younger brother on the throne, a younger brother who also married Bram’s arranged fiancée, Safia. Enter Ruby Dance, temporary PA (when Bram’s right-hand-man is laid low by a skiing accident). Bram may not have seen kith nor kin in five years, but he’s cleaned up his act and is now a man worth billions. He can afford Ruby Dance.
Ruby Dance is the best, a fixer and filler of the first order when a business needs emergency help. When she shows up at Bram’s Arabian stronghold, she encounters a scarred, surly man with the body of a professional athlete. Bram’s newly-emerged from a swim and Ruby’s response to him is so engaging. Let’s say there are interesting water droplets to follow. Fielding knows how to write about physical awareness that isn’t insta-lust, a rare feat in rom writing these days. It isn’t long before Ruby proves her worth as a superlative PA, but Bram needs her to fulfill a greater “fixer” role, that of his wife. His father is celebrating a birthday and has summoned his disgraced son back to join the festivities. Alas, he’s also arranged a marriage for him, one that Bram, for sundry reasons, doesn’t want. At the same time, Bram wants to see his family; not to forego that opportunity, he can bypass the arranged marriage and still reunite with his family with a temporary wife of his own – Ruby. In turn, Ruby takes this opportunity to help Bram and deal with certain financial straits.
The working-out of this premise takes the form of Ruby and Bram’s growing closeness by conversing, shared laughter, bonding over a love of horses, and gently teasing each other’s foibles. Ruby and Bram are eminently likeable and, the more we know them, the more we like them. This sounds simple, but it’s a rare feat. How many times has MissB read a romance where, by the half-way point, she wants to strangle one of the characters, or both, or she’s developped eye-strain from excessive orb-rolling. Not here: Ruby and Bram care; MissB/thereader cares, and that’s because Fielding cares.
The key to enjoying The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess is acknowledging how Fielding reveals character. Bram and Ruby are seemingly opposites to start: Bram is a grumpy hero (MissB’s favourite kind) and Ruby is cool-as-a-cucumber serenely efficient. Bram grunts here and there, while Ruby exhibits, according to Bram, an annoying “stillness”. But Fielding slowly reveals Ruby and Bram’s many facets. To start, Ruby and Bram share a need to seek redemption for past wrongs. While we only know this initially because of Fielding’s revelation of Ruby’s and Bram’s inner worlds, the strength of their love is built on confiding in each other as trusted and something-more friends. Their attraction is strong, but Fielding is a romance writer more interested in tenderness and comfort than overwrought sexuality. Ruby and Bram’s early prickliness falls away to be replaced with their complexity, their need to do better and right by everyone in their lives, and their love for the other.
With protagonists this lovely, Fielding, as any romance writer would, has a dilemma. What could possibly tear them apart, so she may bring them back together? The novel’s last quarter or so is a bit much: with misunderstandings, melodrama, and some uncharacteristic mistrust on Ruby’s part. All is redeemed, however, by the HEA’s deep sigh-quality, which, by the way, dear reader, includes pain au chocolat and a wonderful reversal of the MOC trope. The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess is one of the gentlest, loveliest romance Miss Bates has read in a long time. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates concurs that Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess is indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Liz Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in February 2017 and may be found at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.