The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride, by Annie West

28 Mar

The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride, by Annie West

This lovely category romance is my introduction to Ms West’s writing. I confess that I have a soft spot for sheikhs as characters because E.M.Hull’s The Sheikh was in fact the first romance I ever read. (Yes, I know—rape, Stockholm syndrome, the whole ball of wax. I was eleven, for crying out loud; I thought the ending made up for the rest of the book.)

Erm…where was I? Ah yes. The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride is much better than the blurb would make you think:

A waif-and-stray virgin

Sheikh Khalid Bin Shareef always vowed not to get entangled with virgins, but innocent Maggie Lewis proved too hard to resist…Then, unexpectedly, Maggie disappeared the morning after their first passionate encounter…

For the sheikh, though, Maggie was definitely unfinished business! He had her found and sent to his kingdom, only to discover the consequence of their impetuous night! Marriage was the only answer—but with no emotions, no expectations of love. Maggie would take her rightful place by the sheikh’s side… and in his bed…but nothing more!

What’s with the exclamation marks! Seriously! Unnecessary! and oh so melodramatic! and misleading!

And let’s not even start on the overabundance of ellipses…

*ahem*

I like both characters, but particularly Khalid. Born the younger son of the second wife, he didn’t expect to inherit the throne of Shajehar (mythical Middle Eastern, oil rich country) and so had been free to find something productive to do with his life. Having lived for several years in Britain and having traveled extensively, his demeanor in general is very Western, and his behaviour towards Maggie is never cold nor autocratic. The latter is rarely the case in most novels with heroes from exotic, idealized backgrounds, and it’s a very welcome change.

Maggie, on the other hand, has some self esteem issues that irritated me a few times during the story, but nothing more than could be expected—and accepted—given her upbringing. Abandoned by her mother to the care of a father who didn’t care for her at all, and used as a smoke screen by a man intent on having an affair with a married woman, she believes herself to be unlovable. Note, not undeserving of love, but lacking in whatever it is that ignites it in others.

It irritated me a bit that Maggie was a virgin at twenty-three, even though she’s worked as a stable hand and surrounded by males for years, yet she had sex with Khalid less than two hours after meeting him. Yes, extenuating circumstances and whatnot, but still, it makes her characterization inconsistent. Then again, it can be argued that it was out of character precisely because of the circumstances of their meeting, her dealing with shock, her self esteem issues, etc. Still, the whole virgin-having-sex-with-a-stranger thing irks me as a rule.

The world building, so to speak, is very sparse. There is not one reference to religious differences or rituals, and other than a few mentions of the resistance that the proposed education of girls and even adult woman will encounter with elders in the more remote villages in the country, Khalid and Maggie’s interactions are very much those of equals.

And this is basic for me. When they both discover that she got pregnant that one night, Khalid doesn’t coerce, blackmail, threaten, or force Maggie to marry him. He states his case—all the benefits, emotional and otherwise—that marriage between them would bring their baby, but then he leaves the decision to Maggie.

From there, the story covers approximately the first six months of their marriage, and while some of the conflict therein is relatively predictable, I really like the slow way in which their feelings for each other change, and the subtle way this influences their reactions to each other.

The event that forces both of them to finally come clean with each other is perhaps a tad too melodramatic—and the need for such an event is predictable in itself—but I enjoyed the way Ms West wrote it, because I so enjoyed the characters.

The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride gets a 7.5 out of 10.

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