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The Desert King, by Olivia Gatesthe-desert-king

The conclusion to Ms Gates’ Throne of Judar trilogy, The Desert King tells the story of Kamal, the youngest Aal Masood brother. While reading the first two novels is not indispensable to enjoying this one, I strongly recommend it, as it gives some background to the political pressures and maneuvers that push the protagonists together. (For the short version, read my review of the second title, The Desert Lord’s Bride, here.)

Basically, however, the peace of a rather large section of the Middle East hinges on a marriage of state between about-to-be-crowned Kamal and reluctant princess Aliyah. Getting these two married is not easy to begin with, what with this being the twenty-first century and all, but the situation is further complicated by the history between them.

Here is the back cover blurb:

Wed Thy Enemy

Their farce of a marriage will save his kingdom. And in return for an heir, Kamal Aal Masood will give his new wife Aliyah anything—except the trust and intimacy she desperately wants.

When Kamal abruptly ended their blistering affair years ago, he vowed Aliyah would never ensnare him again. Only a fool allowed his actions to be ruled by his heart. And only a woman like Aliyah would dare to challenge a king in a passionate battle of wills…

Throne of Judar–for passion, for love… for their kingdom!

I have struggled a bit with this story, because at the end of the previous one certain revelations were made that turn the entire saga into something… well, soap opera-ish.

Up to a few weeks before the start of The Desert King, Aliyah has believed that she’s the niece of the King of Zohayd, daughter to his sister and an American. She’s been brought up in the States, and while fully bilingual, she’s a Westerner more than anything else.

Then the big revelation—she’s adopted. Further, she’s the biological daughter of the King rather than his adopted niece, and now it is she who must marry the heir to the throne of Judar in order to keep the region at peace. And, oh surprise!, through happenstance, it is now the third Aal Masood brother, Kamal, who is her prospective groom.

So, okay. Ms Gates does a good job of pointing out just how unlikely the entire situation is, but once the reader has accepted it as the set up for the necessary conflict between hero and heroine, all is good.

Both Kamal and Aliyah start out as interesting characters, with issues that they are still working through—individually and between them. I loved the interaction between Kamal and Aliyah, and between Kamal and his older brothers, Farooq and Shehab.

Mostly, I believed in the attraction—both sexual and emotional—between Kamal and Aliyah, and was completely enthralled by their reactions to each other for well over one hundred pages. I have said before that writing good sex scenes is not easy. Writing good sexual tension, up to and including those sex scenes? Even harder. Here, Ms Gates’ writing shines.


The set up for this story hinges on a big misunderstanding—not my favorite plot device, by any means—and I’m sad to say that I didn’t feel Ms Gates pulled it off convincingly. Perhaps it’s the short format (less than two hundred pages) that keeps tripping me, but it feels as if everything past the midpoint in the book just rushes by, instead of developing at a reasonable pace. Perhaps it is that the villain doesn’t exist except to provide proof and reason to the obstacle between Kamal and Aliyah.

Perhaps it’s that I didn’t see how or why Kamal’s feelings for—and opinion of—Aliyah changed. We are told they do, but we don’t see the progression. It’s… like a jump in the narrative, so to speak. And therefore the final scenes didn’t have enough impact on me.

The Desert King gets 6.50 out of 10 from me.

This novel is available through amazon.com here and amazon uk here.

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