Harlequin Historical and Historical Undone author Marguerite Kaye talks about the ultimate Alpha males...
Sheikh heroes tend to divide opinion among romance readers - you either love them or you hate them. Until I was asked to write Innocent in the Sheikh’s Harem for a sheikh anthology, I was probably more in the latter category, not because I’d read many sheikh romances (okay, I hadn’t actually read any) but because The Desert Song was one of my mum’s favourite films and I really, really couldn’t stand Gordon MacRae.
So what defines sheikhs in Romanceland, and why is it that they get readers so hot under the collar – both in a good way and a bad way?
First and foremost they’re Alpha males. The ultimate Alpha males. They’re master and commander of all they survey, they’re answerable to no-one, and no-one questions their actions. I could see straight away how this could easily bleed into asshole-ness – invulnerable autocrats are insufferable. But what, I asked myself, would that regal burden do to you? Surely it would be isolating? Looked up to, unable to show any weakness or indecisiveness, never mind actually failing, would be a very lonely place to be. Prince Ramiz, my Alpha but not asshole hero was beginning to take shape.
Next, I started to think about the whole cloak and veil thing. Sheikhs live in an enclosed world. They are ‘cloaked’ in mystery, unknown and unknowable, remote and therefore utterly intriguing. What heroine worth her salt wouldn’t want to be the one to break down all those barriers, to be the one to unveil the man beneath the princely robes? She’d have to be a pretty brave and a pretty smart one, that was for sure, definitely not a heroine who was easily intimidated. My Regency rose would need guts as well as tact. And so Celia, my diplomat’s daughter, was born.
The history and culture of Arabia would be almost completely alien to any Westerner in the early 19th Century. There was lots of room for conflict here. Prince Ramiz, my sheikh, was immensely proud of his country’s traditions. He was also immensely insulted by the misconceptions and preconceptions of his society which works like One Thousand and One Nights were largely responsible for. Celia’s wholly unjustified outrage at the notion of being confined to a harem full of sultry houris enrages Ramiz. He’s a man of honour, which means he’s no womaniser, another element of the sheikh trope I decided to dispense with. Ramiz certainly didn’t need a string of wives and concubines to prove himself as a man.
But there is something about a harem, isn’t there? It epitomises the sensual, exotic and downright sexy world of the sheikh. This, I decided to retain, but I felt it needed context, and that was the desert itself, which was important enough to be portrayed almost as a separate character in the book. Although A’Qadiz isn’t a real place, it felt incredibly real to me. The endlessness of the desert and the sky above it, the scale and beauty of it, its untamed nature, such a contrast to the lushness of the oasis and the richness of the sheikh’s palace, I found it all intoxicating, and so did Celia. Extremes of colour and temperature and texture, the smells and the tastes, everything so different from the England she had left behind, captivated my heroine’s senses just as Ramiz, the prince of it all, captivated her heart. No wonder then, that this hitherto restrained-to-the-point-of-repressed heroine is seduced. No wonder, in the erotic ambiance of the harem, that her passionate nature is released.
Gordon MacRae singing My Desert is Calling still leaves me cold. The world I’ve created in my Princes of the Desert trilogy is – hands up – pure fantasy, and of course I’ve had to tread lightly over some very real cultural conflicts. Prince Ramiz is most definitely a Romanceland sheikh – with, hopefully, my own twist. I like him a lot. I liked his world so much that I went on to write two more books about it. I hope I’ve persuaded a few of you anti-sheikh readers out there to give him a try and see if you like him too.
The Sheikh’s Impetuous Love Slave (Harlequin Undone ebook) and Innocent in the Harem (Harlequin/Miils&Boon Historical) are out now. The Governess and the Sheikh is out now in the UK, and will be released in August in North America.
You can read excerpts and background and more on my website at www.margueritekaye.com