A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Awakened By Her Desert Captor by Abby Green

on September 10, 2016

I’m often aghast when reading reviews of modern Harlequin Presents that dare to break out of rigid formulas. (I wrote about one example, also, as it happens, by Abby Green.) The hate a book garners when the heroine dares to have sex with someone other than the hero is sickening. So it was embarrassing, reading the reviews of this and having to go… “Yes. True. You’re absolutely spot on.” Liking a book despite the fact that it’s really sexist isn’t as bad as hating it because it isn’t, right?

The plot is a bit of a mix of The Sheikh (sans physical force or brutality), Susan Napier’s Mistress of the Groom, and Green’s own The Brazilian’s Blackmail Bargain — two of which I really like. (No prize for guessing which two.)  Arkim is planning to marry a sweet young girl, as part of a business deal and also to establish his respectability because his dad was — gasp! — a porn mogul. Unfortunately, the sweet young girl has an older, hotter sister who works in a – gasp! – naughty Paris revue. When Sylvie destroys the wedding by proclaiming that she and Arkim had had sex the night before, he decides to take his revenge by stealing her away to his Sheikhy desert hideaway and making her lie true.

Revenge! Misunderstood innocent! Whore goggles! I totally love this shit! But it’s hard to deny that it’s extremely implausible here. The contortions the story goes through to make 28 year old Sylvie a total innocent who barely shows a thing when she dances would fit handily in her revue:

“‘I couldn’t care less if you stripped naked and hung upside down on a trapeze in your show. This conversation is over.’

Sylvie refrained from pointing out that that was actually Giselle’s act…”

Sylvie is the fakest of fake rakes and Arkim is pretty much a fake Sheikh, which is offensive in other ways. Credit to the author for trying to strike a positive note against slut-shaming at the end, by having Arkim accept Sylvie’s job… but it’s gloss. It can’t mitigate the sexism at the heart of the story.

I feel like I should write more about why I enjoyed the book anyway, but there isn’t much to say past, “I like this kind of thing.” The prose is smooth and effective. It’s intense, it’s angsty, it’s cathartic in some way. It hits the sweet spot; I’ve learned to be okay with this.




4 responses to “Awakened By Her Desert Captor by Abby Green

  1. Miss Bates says:

    And well you can be. Feelings are feelings and likes are likes. Problematic or not, I don’t think we read as an act of virtue. At least not all the time. A steady HP diet is cloying, but the occasional sip really hits the spot.

  2. Jackie Horne says:

    Why do you always making me curious to read the HP’s, Willaful??

    You write, “Liking a book despite the fact that it’s really sexist isn’t as bad as hating it because it isn’t, right?” This makes me curious–do you like it “despite” the fact that it’s really sexist? Or is your liking in some ways BECAUSE it is really sexist? Are there books that contain the “revenge/misunderstood innocent/whore goggles” tropes that aren’t sexist? And that give you an equal charge?

    And BTW, what exactly are “whore goggles”??

    • willaful says:

      Fascinating questions! You could definitely argue that the sexism is part of what I like, though I have encountered a gender reversal that worked equally well. (https://willaful.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/always-to-remember-by-lorraine-heath/)

      What is undeniably sexist is the nature of this particular conflict, because it’s very hard to envision it going the other way in our culture with the same impact.

      But I’d say there are definitely romances that use the “misunderstood innocent” conflict without feeling sexist, and those are also powerful reads. Mary Balogh in particular often has her heroines point out double standards, and her heroes learn hard lessons from their sexist assumptions. Indiscreet and The Plumed Bonnet are two that come to mind. Secrets of the Heart also, but I don’t think it’s as successful.

      I actually think this book could have pulled it off if there were less implausibility and more attention to the ending.

      Whore goggles: a term I invented to mean the tendency of a romance hero to not only make assumptions about a woman’s sexual experience, but to read virtually anything she says, does, or experiences as confirmation of his original conclusion.

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