0.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase
This is a bit of a fake-out. Calling a series of women fallen implies to me that they actually should be… fallen, and thus different and distinct from the youthful virgins and/or managing spinster virgins we so often get within the genre. Instead, this particular novel would probably be more enjoyable for a male, rather than a female, reader: Zoe, our heroine, is a girl who’s spent the last 12 years in a harem, being trained by experts in how to seduce a man… except, she’s still a virgin. Somehow, somewhere, someone’s fantasy is coming true. Too bad the book is riddled with every cliche you could possibly imagine about the “exotic east” and comes off as having stilted leads, coupled with an ungainly, impossible-to-believe setup, as well as second-act villains that don’t really make sense.
We start with a series of very improbable events:
1. High strung English girl (Zoe) runs away while on a family vacation touring Cairo. She’s kidnapped, put into a harem, and given as a “wife” to one of the leader’s sons.
2. The son is impotent. Zoe receives “training” during her time in the harem in an effort to cure the son of his impotence. It fails. She remains a virgin until one day, both the son and the leader are killed (poisoned).
3. Sensing an opportunity, Zoe escapes the palace (with loads of jewels), finds her way to a powerful Englishman, and is reunited with her family (12 years after the initial kidnapping).
4. Knowing that scandal will follow her name, and seeking a way to repay the guidance of Zoe’s father, Lucien undertakes to “make” Zoe respectable.
Okay. So the setup is a doozy.
I’m actually okay with that. As someone who reads everything from historical romance to sci-fi, I’m perfectly comfortable with off-the-wall, extraordinarily unlikely setups.
But, there has to be MORE than the setup, and here, there never is.
You have dull, mind-numbingly stupid side characters (all of Zoe’s sisters make you want to throttle them) paired with a nails-down-chalkboard heroine who seems selfish, backwards, and just… nonsensical. You have a hero who has a reputation from being lazy, and almost slow… and, amazingly, he never really transcends this initial portrayal! Which means that neither main character is likeable, or relatable. Further, they have little pulling them together other than sexual attraction and childhood memories… and that’s an awkward, ungainly combination!
The romantic tension peters out fairly quickly (they give in to their physical attraction well before they’ve straightened out whether they’ll be compatible in any other sphere of life), and in its place, we’re given a second act villain (in the form of an unhappy servant who goes a little mad…)
I will say that if you are a reader who wants to read about an experienced harem girl who’s still actually a virgin, well, your wish has been granted! This has every Arabian fantasy-girl stereotype you could possibly hope for (down to sexy dances and undulating hips). It just doesn’t have a plot that has any forward action, nor characters that are believable or relatable.
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
Chase is good at carrying out tropes well, which makes sense since this was a RITA winner. She’s not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of her character’s cause or passion, which is very Lisa Kleypas and Sherry Thomas-like (where the characters often have careers, purposes, things that are really driving their actions). Also, she’s a master at creating super strong female characters, who sometimes come from loving, supportive families (very Julia Quinn in terms of having that super-strong and supporting, will-always-be-there-for-you family), and often have friends and/or relatives who always, always remain loyal. I still think that Lord of the Scoundrels (definitely a five-star book) might be my favorite, followed by this and then Your Scandalous Ways.