The Desert Lord’s Baby, by Olivia Gates
First book in the Throne of Judar trilogy, The Desert Lord’s Baby tells the story of Farooq Aal Masood, heir to the throne of this small but rich Middle East kingdom, and Carmen McArthur, who specialises in organizing international events, both diplomatic and for businesses.
This short novel (shy of 200 pages, in fact) is chock full of many of the category romance elements that, usually, put me off: secret baby; incredibly attractive, arrogant, rich and powerful guy from exotic background; comparatively powerless and average (in every way from looks to fortune) woman with more emotional baggage than freighter container; villainous relative; political intrigue; the fate of the world as we know it hanging in the balance; and, to top the cake, the inevitable big misunderstanding.
It would seem like a recipe for disaster, would it not? Particularly when you read the blurb:
She’d conceived his child and run…
But there was nowhere Carmen could hide from this prince of Judar. No stone he wouldn’t turn to find her, no wall he couldn’t tear down. Nothing would stop Farooq Aal Massod from claiming the mother of his baby.
She had betrayed him. And she would pay. In his bed. As his wife… until he tired of her. And though Carmen professed to love him, that it was all a misunderstanding, well… Farooq would never fall for her lies again!
And yet! Despite everything listed, I am so very happy to say that I like this book!
The strength of this novel lies in the characterization that transforms these improbable characters into believable people going through difficult circumstances. Yes, there is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required, and a fair bit of “grander than life could ever possibly be” in the scope of the relationship, what with the fate of a country—if not that of the Middle East or perhaps even the world hinging on these two people’s decisions—but somehow Ms Gates made it work for me.
Part of it is the fact that while Carmen takes Farooq’s actions at face value, giving the reader her own interpretation of his emotions towards her, the reader is privy to his thought processes and emotional struggles just as much as hers, which humanizes him in a way that sets him apart from many of the outrageous cavemen heroes of older romances.
Even more, I liked that he felt bothered by the unnatural imbalance in power in the relationship—simply because of his birth, he is in a position of absolute power over her. And this bothers him; he wants her to be free to feel and chose.
Not very realistic, as has been discussed in many a romance readers’ blog, but it works in the context. Of course, going by what is realistic, the entire premise of the book fails that test.
I liked that the baby in question was a girl, and that, regardless of her sex, her mere existence had so much importance in the political chess game in which Farooq is involved. Both that and his emotional reaction to his daughter were very welcome, particularly when the fictional country of Judar is Middle Eastern, with Arabic as the main language, polygamy an accepted practice, and presumably Muslim.
Further, I liked that while the existence of this baby was pivotal in many ways, she’s not on screen so much that one gets tired of the cuteness and the precociousness and the sheer omgbabyprecioussssss that some books may fall prey to. She’s there only when it’s logical that she is, i.e. “Fed (her) breakfast while…” and the like.
A couple of things that irritated me—of course there are a few—were the use of the word “tycoon”. Mostly because I couldn’t quite see a guy thinking of himself like this: “as a prince and a tycoon…” Huh? Erm… no, I couldn’t buy that.
Then there is the use of Arabic and its subsequent translation. I don’t know any Arabic myself, so I can’t judge whether it’s idiomatically correct or not, nor whether the translation is accurate. What bothered me a bit is having Carmen use it so spontaneously—particularly during emotional and/or intimate scenes—after just a few weeks in the country. Yes, we know she was fluent before, but in my experience, it takes quite a while speaking another language every day in all contexts before you internalize it that much.
The inclusion of a few of the secondary characters seemed unnecessary to the flow of this story—Shebar and Kamal, Farooq’s brothers, most notably; it seemed they were included simply to set up the stage for their own books. And the only scene with the king seemed… well, both forced and rushed.
All in all, though, this is a quick and enjoyable novel with characters I enjoyed, and which left me wanting to know what happens next with the rest of its cast of characters.
7.25 out of 10