Bound to the Warrior King by Maisey Yates is a very, very good book - but the reader has to be willing to check reality in and collect it after the final destination.
Tarek al-Khalij (yes, we have a sheikh book) was never meant to rule Tahar (yes, we have a made-up country/royalty book). The former sheikh was his brother, a monster who ordered the murder of their parents and then tortured Tarek. At the hands of his brother's "tutelage," Tarek became a fierce warrior - living as a nomad, protecting his country's borders - while his brother debauched his way through women and drugs until the latter killed him. Now Tarek is the sheikh and to put it bluntly? He's barely housebroken.
Dowager Queen Olivia of Alansund is a young widow desperate to find her place in the world. With her husband, the King, dead and her brother-in-law now ruler, Olivia is at a loss. She desperately wants a home. She wants to be useful. And to her way of thinking that's another royal marriage. Tarek seems like a good candidate....until she actually meets him. But before he can throw her out on her butt, she suggests that he give her 30 days. 30 days to show him that he needs her. She can housebreak him in the ways of being royal. She can polish him up. And she has 30 days to show him just how invaluable she can be to him and maybe, just maybe, convince him that a permanent partnership between the two of them would not be the worst thing in the whole world.
I've read category romances in recent memory where the author went a little crazy at The Trope Smorgasbord and the book reads like a hot mess. Somehow Yates does the exact same thing and manages to pull it off. I think because she doesn't overdo it on any of her ingredients. This story features everything from subtle Pygmalion and Beauty and the Beast themes to Ye Olde Fake Royalty and Virgin Hero Ahoy! tropes. She pulls all her ingredients together beautifully and not one overpowers any of the others.
Olivia is a complicated heroine and I suspect if readers will have issues with this story it may be with her. She's an American who met her royal husband at university. She's the sort of heroine who has a lot of polish on the outside but is secretly vulnerable. In this instance, it's due to a lifetime of neglect from parents who were distracted taking care of her sickly sister. Olivia is the sort of heroine who wants people to notice her, to value her, but when she opens her mouth to demand it, it comes back to bite her in the butt. I could sympathize with a teenage Olivia who just wanted her parents to acknowledge her birthday, but for some readers Olivia's baggage will likely come off as First World Problems.
Tarek's baggage is much more extreme - what with the Evil Dead Brother and the life he lived from about 15-years-old on. His whole life is wrapped up in control and being the exact opposite of what his brother stood for. Honor, duty, sacrifice for his country - these are all very important to Tarek. But he's not exactly a "people person" - which is where Olivia comes in. He's very much our Fairy Tale Beast - no polish, with rough edges, but underneath it all he's a good man, with a good heart.
What I really liked about their relationship is that from a sexual chemistry standpoint Olivia is the aggressor. Tarek is all about restraint and control - which means denying himself his baser instincts. Olivia is attracted to Tarek almost instantly, and having had a healthy sexual relationship with her first husband, knows exactly what she has been missing the past two years. I don't read a ton of Presents, but Olivia making the early first moves on our sheikh hero felt very....different to me. In a good way. This, of course, ramps up the tension quite a bit and these two set off some serious sparks. I found myself anticipating the consummation of their relationship and it's been a while since I've been able to say that about a romance (sad, but true).
Yates has written a straight-up Fairy Tale Fantasy. I'm hard pressed to find much reality in this story, but the author owns it, and runs with it. It's intense, it brings ALL THE FEELS, and I inhaled every single word of it. Yates has quickly become my go-to author for Presents.
Final Grade = B+
Note: I actually listened this on audio. My first ever Presents listen on audio. I walked into the experience knowing it would either be a success or an unmitigated disaster. The audio version definitely drew the "over the top" feel that the Presents line can have into stronger focus - especially Tarek's dialogue. I felt his dialogue fit well with his overall character but....yeah, a little over the top. Also it took me a little while to get used to the narrator, Arika Rapson, whose voice was a little on the "breathy" side. I'm not sure I'd listen to an unknown-to-me Presents author on audio, but since Yates was a known quantity? I could roll with it all. And I did enjoy it.