Posts Tagged ‘Weak-Willed-Heroine’

Genre : Historical Romance (early 20th century)

Official Blurb 

Diana Mayo is young, beautiful, wealthy–and independent. Bored by the eligible bachelors and endless parties of the English aristocracy, she arranges for a horseback trek through the Algerian desert. Two days into her adventure, Diana is kidnapped by the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who forces her into submission. Diana tries desperately to resist but finds herself falling in love with this dark and handsome stranger. Only when a rival chieftain steals Diana away does the Sheik realize that what he feels for her is more than mere passion. He has been conquered–and risks everything to get her back. The power of love reaches across the desert sands, leading to the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.

One of the most widely read novels of the 1920s, and forever fixed in the popular imagination in the film version starring the irresistible Rudolph Valentino, The Sheik is recognized as the immediate precursor to the modern romance novel. When first published there was nothing like it: To readers the story was scandalous, exotic, and all-consuming; to such critics as the New York Times the book was “shocking,” although written with “a high degree of literary skill.” In the author’s native England, the bestselling book was labeled “poisonously salacious” by the Literary Review and banned from some communities. But the public kept reading. The influence of The Sheik on romance writers and readers continues to resonate. Despite controversy over its portrayal of sexual exploitation as a means to love, The Sheik remains a popular classic for its representation of the social order of its time, capturing contemporary attitudes toward colonialism as well as female power and independence that still strike a chord with readers today.


I was in a quandary when reviewing this book. Should I make some sort of concession for the fact that it was written in an era where certain beliefs and attitudes would be totally unacceptable today? Or should I simply review it using the same criteria I would use for all the other books I read. I decided on the latter because ultimately I rate a book on how it makes me feel and how much I enjoy it.

The lengthy narrative and Diane’s predilection for protracted internal monologues frequently slows the story down to a tedious pace. However, I do like E. M. Hull’s descriptive flair… how she captures so vividly the changing hues of the desert setting…the sights, sounds and smells of Ahmed’s camp… the action scenes.

Normally, I love Alpha heroes but not if they are cruel, intimidating and controlling like Ahmed. While I understand his need to rule his people with an iron hand, I absolutely abhor the way he treats Diana. Although not graphically portrayed, it is obvious Ahmed rapes her over and over again. He is determined to force her into total submission.

The easy swing of her boyish figure and the defiant carriage of her head reminded him of one of his own thoroughbred horses. She was as beautiful and wild as they were. And as he broke them so would he break her. She was nearly tamed now, but not quite, and by Allah! it should be quite!

He has no regard for her feelings and no compassion. There is never any real softening of his character and the odd glimpses of tenderness are not enough to redeem him in my eyes.

I hate that Diana does not stay true to her character…the strong-willed, confident woman we see at the start of the story. She quickly becomes whimpering and weak-willed. She may rage against Ahmed inside but simply rolls over and accepts anything he chooses to dish out.

She knew that her life was in his hands, that he could break her with his lean brown fingers like a toy to be broken, and all at once she felt pitifully weak and frightened. She was utterly in his power and at his mercy – the mercy of an Arab who was merciless.

I read an interesting post by Elizabeth Vale on Heroes and Heartbreakers, where she compared the characters in a romance novel to the opponents in a prize fight:

“Now imagine the fight is between a heavyweight champion and some skinny dude who barely tops 90 pounds soaking wet. No one wants to watch a fight like that – it’s too overmatched. No one wants to see a weakling get his butt handed to him, and no one roots for the hulking meathead willing to mop the floor with an opponent one-third his size.”

This struck me as an excellent analogy for this book. I didn’t want to see a once strong-willed heroine demeaned and humiliated by a jerk of a hero. That’s not what I look for in my romance. Maybe, because of this power imbalance, I never felt any real chemistry or sexual tension between Ahmed and Diana and their falling in love seemed forced and unbelievable.

I wanted to read THE SHEIK to fully appreciate THE SHEIK RETOLD, Victoria Vane’s retelling of this story. Overall, it was an interesting experience but not a book I can say I really enjoyed.



Read August 2013

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