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Wednesday, November 15, 2023

#TBRChallenge 2023: The Sheikh's Virgin Princess

The Book: The Sheikh's Virgin Princess by Sarah Morgan

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Presents Extra #37, Book 3 in Trope-Based, Multi-Author Series (His Virgin Mistress), 2009, Out of print, available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: When I discovered Sarah Morgan (through her Presents), I went on a glom to snag the rest of her backlist.  This was one of them, picked up at a used bookstore.

The Review: For this month's Once Upon a Time... theme I hit the trifecta: 1) Royalty, 2) Princess in the Tower theme and 3) an arranged marriage. Me also pointing out that the heroine is a virgin would just be showing off at this point.

Here's the thing about Morgan, she could flat-out write Presents. She knew the beats, she respected the tropes, and was smart enough throw in the occasional curveball to liven up the proceedings. Which means even when I'm not in love with one of her Presents, I still tend to inhale them, which is what happened here.  The heroine was a nice surprise, but the hero was such a paternalistic jackass it was hard to get swept up in the romance.

Karim, Sultan of Zangrar, is just getting to the point where he's cleaned up the mess left behind by his father and Evil Stepmother - so when he finds out Dear Old Dad arranged a marriage between his only son and a woman known as "The Rebel Princess," he's decidedly unthrilled. He understands he has to marry, but he needs an obedient, compliant wife. One who won't make waves. One who is nothing like his Evil Stepmother.  He decides his only option is to go to Rovina and convince Princess Alexandra to call the whole thing off.  By nature of the arrangement, she can call it off - but he cannot.

Except Alexa has no intention of calling off the marriage - she's more than ready to marry the Sultan. Why? Because with her parents killed in a terrible accident when she was eight, her Evil Uncle became Regent. Said Evil Uncle has spent years working to discredit her and she firmly believes (with cause) that her life is in danger. Marrying the Sultan, trading one locked tower for another, is her only chance at survival.  She's about to turn 24. She needs to make it to 25, which is when (by law) she takes over the throne of Rovina.

What follows is subterfuge. Karim shows up posing as a bodyguard to take Alexa back to Zangrar - thinking that over the course of the trip he'll scare her off from wanting to marry the Sultan. Naturally he assumes the worst, and when she tells him she's in danger - well, she's just another overly dramatic female (seriously, this guy is the worst!). In his defense, Alexa isn't forthcoming with a lot of details -  mainly because she's learned the very hard lesson that she cannot trust anybody. She's been betrayed, and badly. When she's looked for help, there's been no one showing up on a white horse to slay her dragons. 

I liked Alexa quite a bit. She's this interesting combination of desperation, vulnerability and feistiness. And boy howdy, when she finds out who Karim really is? Her hurt practically bleeds off the page.  And ultimately? That's the problem. Because Karim doesn't think he did one damn thing wrong. He doesn't get it. He's a guy who will never get it. Oh sure, Morgan gives us the requisite rescue scene at the end where she wants you to think he now "gets it" - but no, he doesn't. Alexa deserves a true partner in every sense of the word and this guy will be "give me all your trust and honesty" while not giving nearly the same level in return. In short, he's not good enough for her and she deserves all the flowers after what she's been through.


In the end it's a mixed bag. I can forgive a lot in a Presents hero if I get a good crawl-over-broken-glass grovel, but Karim doesn't really grovel. Morgan wants the reader to think he's seen the error of his ways, but I wanted him bloody and contrite at the end and...nope, that really doesn't happen. What I did get was a Presents with a heavy dose of fairy tale, which is honestly how this line works best for me. Royalty, a princess in danger, an arranged marriage and a dastardly uncle. It's like a Disney fantasy come to life, but with sex.

Final Grade = C-


azteclady said...

"a good crawl-over-broken-glass grovel"


This is ultimately why most categories have failed for me, because generally all the hero does is say--or even just fucking imply--the "I love you", and both heroine and reader are supposed to infer a change man, who has learned from his misdeeds...erm, mistakes ::cough:: and grown into a better person.

Nine times out of ten, I am not convinced.

Still, inhaling the book is always a win.

eurohackie said...

Wow, sounds like a swing and a miss!! I can put up with a lot in HP, but unredeemable jackass "heroes" who will never grow and change and learn is not one of them. Some people love them, but not me.

I chose "Cinderella in the Surgeon's Castle" by Annie Claydon, a Harlequin medical romance. I specifically picked it up because it was to be at least partially set in Cornwall, which is 1000% my jam. Though this was a perfectly decent story with adult human being leads, it fell super flat for me. It delivered neither the promised Cinderella story NOR the Cornwall setting. The third act split was due to the heroine being stupidly pigheaded. The interesting aspects (the hero owns a glassworks!) didn't overcome the supremely "blah" feeling I had while reading it. Oh, well. At least it's off the pile!

Jill said...

The grovel is key! HPs will fail or succeed on this alone.

Sarah Morgan also wrote some really great Medicals that are more cozy and less glitzy. I still miss her writing for that line.

So for Once Upon a Time I tried a monster romance (I was curious!) and an old school sweeping saga of a romance and both failed within a chapter or two. I finally settled on the historical romance THE MARQUIS WHO MUSTN'T by Courtney Milan, which was just delightful. It is the 2nd book in her Wedgeford Trials series. The actual trials are not a big part of this book, but you get to see a lot of the citizens of Wedgeford and their world. I loved the romantic couple in this book. The hero is the son of a con artist who is planning “the perfect fraud” and the heroine is the good daughter, always underestimated. She’s now determined to take “ambulance classes” (what we would think of as first aid) and nothing is going to stand in her way. Throw in a fake (real?) engagement and I’m there. The thing I loved about this couple is their attraction started with respect and communication and not "this is the most gorgeous person I've ever seen in my life." (yawn;-))

I’ve given on the Worth Saga as too convoluted and frankly not very “romancy” so these are now my only Courtney Milan fix.

I'd definitely give this an A and hope we'll see more Wedgeford books next year.

Jen Twimom said...

OMG - I can see this as a comedy/fairytale like "Enchanted." I may watch that. LOL.

It really does have all the points for the genre. But I am also with you on the need for an anti-hero to throughly redeem himself. If not, it's like he gets away with being an ass and the heroine's immense love is enough to get over it. *insert eyeroll*

Wendy said...

AL: Part of the joy in romances (for me) is when the hero will admit when he's wrong - even if he might take a while to get to the point of acknowledging that. And in Presents? A hero who admits he just might have been wrong is harder to come by. Mind you, it's not impossible. I've read Presents where the hero grovels and I fully believe he's seen the error of his ways. But that doesn't happen here and coupled with what the heroine had been through already - she and the reader deserved the crawl-over-broken-glass grovel.

Eurohackie: Boo! The Cornwall setting and the hero owning a glassworks would have totally hooked me as well!

Jill: Oooh, that Milan sounds like my jam! I read one of Morgan's Medicals many moons ago (TBR Challenge 2017! The ridiculously titled Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc?) and liked it. I have more of her Medicals in my TBR - I should dig those up...

Jen: Yeah, this romance suffered from the lack of a good grovel. I thought the heroine was interesting, but ugh - that guys wasn't good enough for her.