Kismet’s Kiss

kismetKismet’s Kiss by Cate Rowan

Published in Darkly Dreaming: A Five Book Fantasy Romance Anthology, 2014 (Fantasy Romance)*

My rating: The view was okay, but the food was bad (1.5-2/5)

Royal Healer Varene is reserved, cautious, and idealistic. When she is sent to the faraway desert kingdom of Kad (based on historical Middle Eastern culture) to help the handsome Sultan Kuramos cure a disease that has struck down his closest family and attendants, she clashes culturally with a society that accepts (even encourages) polygamy. Her healing abilities stem from magic, which is forbidden and persecuted in Kad. Meaning, her arrival must be kept secret, and her aid is often viewed skeptically, as well as rejected by the families of the victims.

While this novel is set in a fantastical world, with magical healing and mages and talking messenger birds, most of the plot and storyline – aside from the romance – followed Varene’s attempts to find the cause of the illness. Unfortunately, the epidemiological mystery felt thin and vague, and it seemed as though Varene jumped to conclusions with very little evidence. But perhaps that’s where the magic comes in. Moreover, I’d have been more interested if it were more fantasy, less medical mystery.

Of course she and the Sultan are attracted to each other, and there’s some token antagonism between them from the first time they meet. Most of the conflict stems from Varene’s stubbornness in clinging to preconceptions of the wrongness of the Sultan’s marriage to six wives, and her (really, unexplained) dislike of rulers. She assumes immediately on her arrival that he is arrogant. Over time, she comes to see that he isn’t – that he rules as well and justly as he can. His relationships with his wives are all different, but none of them is abusive or lacking in mutual respect. One wife, spectacularly ambitious and jealous, does cause marital discord, but it’s nothing exceptional. The explanation for the six marriages is that the aristocrats and the sultan marry for political gain, and anyway, it’s normal for a man not to get everything he wants in marriage from one woman (?!). Thus, friendship from his first wife, playfulness from his second, political advantage from another…

None of this was particularly believable, and it got even worse when it came to resolving the love … octagon … going on in this story. While it’s clear that each marriage was entered into for political advantage and to continue the dynasty, at the end, {spoiler} all the wives summon the Sultan to his throne room to declare that they’re willing to divorce him so he can marry his love, Varene, and so that she won’t have to compromise her ideals, morals, cultural norms… as long as he gives them positions as ambassadors. As unlikely as that is, Varene, the selfless healer, decides she can’t let that happen, and so they end up in some strange compromise where the wives are still married but Varene has the Sultan’s romantic attentions to herself. I wondered if that were really how people in this situation might act. Everyone seemed too altruistic.

Other problems I had with this book: why do they live hundreds of years? There seems to be no purpose to this, it is never explained in any way at all that there IS a reason for the characters to live so long. Nor does it tie into the plot. It felt really contrived, and I’m not sure what the author intended there. Varene’s character fell flat, was unconvincing. During a riot, she completely loses herself and ends up clinging to Kuramos. It was disappointing, how she went from being angry and frightened and determined to survive, to trembling and helpless as soon as the handsome rescuer showed up.

Essentially, while the world had potential (I love desert kingdoms, after all, and especially interactions between people from different cultures), I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. Nothing really convinced me, nothing felt real. Further, there’s that weird and unrealistic resolution of the love octagon that just felt silly.

*Advance e-reader copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. This version was included in a collection of fantasy romances titled Darkly Dreaming. While I did not finish all the books in that collection, the ones I did will be reviewed on this blog separately.

 

Similar Reads

While Emperor Mage is young adult, it can be enjoyed by adults, too. The third in the Immortals series, the romance isn’t highly developed yet – that is reserved for the fourth (and concluding) novel. But, there are hints of infatuation and love, which may satisfy those looking for light romance. Young Daine, now an apprentice to the wizard Numair, travels with an envoy to the southern desert realm Carthak. The sly, cunning emperor has asked her to heal his birds with her wild (animal-bonding) magic. I highly recommend the full series, but this is the one with cultural clashes similar (desert vs. forests) to the ones in Kismet’s Kiss.

Very different in every other way, Sword-Dancer begins a series about two swordsmasters from very different cultures (think northern snows and southern deserts), as they travel together and fall in love. Del is a blond, reserved swordsmaster from the north searching for her lost younger brother, who was kidnapped by slavers and taken south. Tiger is a brash southern swordsman who agrees to guide her through the inhospitable desert climates on her search. Combining magic, swashbuckling swordplay, romance, and travel-adventure, it’s a wonderful romance about two people from very different backgrounds.

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