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The Cobra and The Concubine-Bonnie Vanak

Vanak sets sail on a fabulous adventure  in & of the Near East only to drift back into all too familiar waters.
Badra had been sold into slavery by her parents when she was very young.  Now, years later, she is a young woman living a nightmare.  When the Khamsin tribe attacks the Al-Hajid tribe, Farrah, another unfortunate girl, acts immediately and takes Badra with her to escape Sheikh Fareeq and his clan.  Fareeq realizes the girls are gone, and Farrah knows that their only hope of escape is to turn themselves over to the Khamsin, the opposing Egyptian tribe and ask their leader, Jabari, for protection, which he offers.  Farrah becomes one of the women in Jabari's harem, but Badra, young and traumatized is shown compassion by Sheikh Jabari and put under the care of a most trusted brother within the tribe, Kephri, the blue eyed Falcon Warrior, who is also known as the Cobra.  Kephri vows to protect Badra from all harm, even from himself, and therefore swears an oath not to touch her.  Over the course of five years, Kephri fulfills his vow.....and falls in love with Badra.  She, likewise, adores Kephri.  Jabari frees Kephri from his promise as he realizes that love has developed between the two, and Kephri proposes to Badra.  Upon her refusal, based on her fear due to her abusive past, Kephri determines to win her trust over time, however long it may take, but when two Englishmen appear claiming that Kephri is in actuality "Kenneth", heir to a dukedom, newly found after years of searching, Kephri is caught up in events larger than life and whisked away to England to be trained to assume his rightful place in society.

Brokenhearted and alone, Kenneth struggles to adapt to English life and longs for his home in the desert, his Egyptian brothers, and Badra.  She, in return, lives each day wondering what may have been if she had faced her fears to give herself to the man she loves.  Fate conspires to reunite the two, but deception, intrigue, and past wounds all converge in an attempt to keep them apart.

Vanak wrote an absolutely wonderful first third of this story.  The Egyptian characters are very well done, and Kephri begins as one of the best male heroes I've encountered in romance.  Troubling to me, however, was Vanak's banishment of Kephri once "Kenneth" is found.  It is as if the Egyptian warrior is shelved in favor of a stiff, cold Englishman.  Vanak discards everything that  made this man attractive in the beginning of this story.  Frankly, I'm not sure Badra would have wanted this "Kenneth" after having known Kephri.  Also bothersome was the infiltration of English wives into the Egyptian tribe.  It was just too much English influence upon the story.  ....And we all know there are already an ample number of English romances.  A further problem involved the disappearance of Farrah - replaced without a word by an English wife to Sheikh reasons, no notice...she just vanished from the story.   Even with these problems, the story was enjoyable and entertaining, and I give it three out of five stars.

Recommendation:  ***_ _

The Cobra & The Concubine is worth reading, although it does disappoint at the end with an overabundance of English drama.
~ Moira

How Not To Write A Sexy Sheik Romance

Bonnie Vanak's The Cobra and The Concubine starts out great.  The reader is transported to the deserts of Egypt and into the Khamsin, the Warriors of the Wind.  The Khamsin are led by a sheik named Jabari, who Vanak writes as a just leader who although he is young, has wisdom and courage.  However, it is his brother, Khepri, who is the hero of the story--the Cobra.  He isn't the sheik's blood brother but a man who has grown up with him after the sheik's father rescued him when his family was murdered when he was just a child.  Khepri is an Englishman who has spent his lifetime in the desert and has shown himself to be a fine warrior.  He meets Badra--the Concubine--when his brother rescues her and another woman from a rival sheik's control.  She is just 15 when he meets her (he's 19), and she's been beaten by her former master.  She is to be his brother's concubine, but Khepri immediately is drawn to her.  But his brother does not take her as his concubine because she is too frail and frightened, and instead makes Khepri her falcon guard, charged with guarding her life.

For the next five years, he does just that and falls in love with her.  She falls in love with him too, but she is too scarred emotionally to give in to her feelings, and when Khepri's English family finds him and he must go back to England to be the Duke of Caldwell, she refuses to marry him and they part, both heartbroken. From that point on Khepri is an Englishman named Kenneth and Badra is left back in Egypt.

One year later, they meet again, this time in England.  He still feels the same for her, but she continues to deny her feelings.  This goes on and then Kenneth must return to Egypt because he believes one of Jabari's men has stolen an artifact from an archeological dig of his. He finds out it was Badra, and then finds out that she's being blackmailed by a man who has her child, Jasmine, who she had with the first bad sheik and believed had died but had been sold by him.  Chaos ensues and in the end, the Cobra and the Concubine return to England to be wonderfully proper late 19th century aristocracy.

The Cobra and the Concubine
is a good story for the first 50 pages.  When it is Khepri and Badra, the romantic hero is wonderful.  He's sexy as all hell, brave, strong, and wonderfully sheiky, even though he's English.  However, after that, the story becomes very Anglicized, and everyone, even Jabari and the rest of the Egyptians, become very English.  All the Khamsin warriors marry English women with names like Elizabeth and Katherine, and everyone begins to sound like late 19th century English men and women.  Khepri as Kenneth is an English bore.  Badra alone seems to retain her Egyptian feel, but that is little consolation since she is a flat character who spends the vast majority of the book acting frail or sad because of her life before Khepri.

Maybe it's just me, but I think there is fertile ground for a story with any kind of sheik in it.  I've been all about that idea since I saw the film Sahara back in the 80s when I was just a teenager.  I didn't care a fig about Brooke Shield's character, but the sheik she becomes involved with was incredibly interesting.  Why writers often feel the need to Anglicize Arabs is beyond me.  Foreign is sexy in romance books.  Just as vampires, shapeshifters, and werewolves are sexy because they are "other", so are people from faraway places.  If Vanak had chosen to keep Khepri as that sexy character for the entire book, while Badra still would have been an uninteresting character, at least the scenes with them together would have been sexy.  As it was, The Cobra and the Concubine turned into The Boring English Guy and The Broken Egyptian Girl.


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