Traveling into the desert by caravan only to be taken up by a handsome, fearsome Sheik who brings one back to his sumptuously appointed tent only to have his wicked way… It’s a story that incites that tantalizing blend of fear and excitement. Many times this story has been told and retold, but one of the earliest and best versions out there has sat on the shelf for many years just waiting to be picked up and retold to a new appreciative audience. I was so excited when I found out the author was tackling one of my favorite stories.
A retelling is always a chancy thing, but not in this case. I really like what the author has done with this retelling. She has enhanced what was already the stuff of daydreams and tossed aside that which interfered with the romance and core of the story.
The story is a historical from the year 1920 taking place in North Africa. A young, carefree and willful heiress decides that her first act in coming of age and no longer a ward of her older brother is to set out alone across the desert with just a guide, his help and a few necessities for a desert adventure. Diana is warned the the tribes are restless and that she shouldn’t go alone and better yet not at all, but she is heedless. Not long into her journey, she discovers her error when her little group are surrounded by men of the desert. She is taken captive and learns her fate is to be at the whim of the sheik of the tribe.
Diana is parts defiant and fearful, but the sheik is relentless. He is in utter control and its up to her whether she will be broken gently or just broken like one of his beloved horses. Diana is not stupid so she accepts the inevitable, but she will do it on her terms. The passion explodes between them, but Diana soon learns to crave more than the Sheik is willing to give. This leaves her burdened with her own feelings and back again with her need to escape even as she gets a first hand glimpse of the terrors of tribal war.
The story is in essentials the same as the original, but this one offers a softer, more romantic tale with some of the rougher elements smoothed out. That being said, it still challenges the senses because of Diana’s wonderful first person narrative. She is unapologetic about who and what she is along with what she wants. She reads the situation around her well, but she is still very young and heedless in many ways. Much of her harder adventures and subsequent lessons come from being forced to confront her own selfish, thoughtlessness. Normally, that sort of behavior annoys me, but Diana is constantly learning and experiences true remorse so I can appreciate the growth that takes place.
As to the dynamics in this relationship, Diana is essentially a captive to Ahmed, the Sheik. He is a multi-faceted character who is a man of his place and time- not the typical historical romance hero at all. He, too, is unapologetic and takes what he wants when he wants it, but he is not without a sense of fairness and tenderness. He experiences his own growth arc that is much more subtle, but there is the reader is paying attention. With the narration all on Diana, Ahmed retains some mystery to him until near the end when his friend gives Diana his history that makes him what he is.
So all in all, it was a fabulous experience to return to this story and see it improved in every way as far as I’m concerned. Those who enjoy tempestuous, passionate historical romance in exotic settings should give this one a try.