"Kismet" by Monica Burns

Pros: The heroine is extremely resilient and courageous.
Cons: The hero seems to feel that he has a right to what he wants, despite what the heroine thinks or feels about it.
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Allegra Synnford is an accomplished courtesan used to being in complete control, choosing her lovers and keeping them from getting too close. She has a set of ethics, unlike many courtesans, and this is one of the things that intrigues Sheikh Shaheen of the Amazigh. Allegra is unlike other courtesans that he knew in his life as Viscount Newcastle, and he finds himself more and more attracted to her. She couldn’t have become a distraction at a worse time; enemies are threatening to undermine the work that he’s spent years on and those same enemies are coming to understand what Allegra means to him. Can the two of them learn to trust each other? Fate, kismet, has its own way of working things out…


 

One of my guilty romance pleasures is the “noble desert nomad warrior” motif. It started when Egyptian-related romances I read would bleed over into tales of desert warriors and female archeologists finding their happily ever afters. The more I read in this sub-genre, though, the more I notice that authors sometimes use ideas of Bedouin or nomadic values to justify the hero’s Alpha Male “I will do whatever I want to win the girl I want” train of thought. Ms. Burns’ Kismet steps over that line for me several times, and so I had trouble enjoying a good deal of the book.

I really enjoyed Allegra’s perspective; although she was sold by her mother into prostitution, she has chosen not to let that embitter her. Granted, she’s struggled quite a bit in her life, but she hasn’t sacrificed her morals or values in the process. When she encounters a tough situation, she tries to make the best of it so that she can survive.  I also appreciated the fact that she was completely unapologetic about being a courtesan; her pride in her abilities is one of the things that makes me love her so much, along with her unwillingness to give up.

When it came to Sheikh Shaheen, however, I ran hot and cold over and over. Knowing that he was the hero of the story made me want to like him, but his actions just left me cold. Keeping the woman that he wants restricted to his camp despite her repeated attempts to leave with fairly flimsy excuses wasn’t an honorable course of action, especially after he “disciplined” her and humiliated her in front of his tribe. (And as she points out more than once, he had no authority over her to do so). Throughout the whole book, Shaheen could have saved so much trouble and heartache if he could have been honest with Allegra. I understand that he has woman, brother, and father issues, but in my book that’s no excuse for behavior that consistently borders on abuse. (The “Bedouin tribal rules” excuse doesn’t work for him either; there are a couple of instances where even one of his tribe’s members points out that he’s getting out of line.)

That being said, Ms. Burns does an excellent job of bringing both urban and desert Morocco to life. We get to see not only the contrast between European and Arabic society, but we also get a chance to experience the sense of community that a tribe must have in order to survive as a unit. It’s also interesting to see how the Bedouin see themselves, as apart from the Arabic society of the time. They are a political force to be reckoned with in their own right, which leads to some interesting conflicts within the story.

Although Shaheen spoiled a good deal of the book for me with his actions, when I had opportunities to forget about his selfishness I loved the setting and the other characters in the book. Allegra’s integrity and resilience, despite the stereotypes associated with her profession, made her a character I adored getting to know. Watching some of the intrigue play out was also fascinating, giving the reader some insight into the labyrinthine politics of the area. I just wish that I felt like the ending really was a happily-ever-after, instead of an ending that might give them both cause for grief later. After Shaheen’s actions, I just couldn’t have much faith in his remorse and vows of change.

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