The Sword & the Sheath (2007)

By Bonnie Vanak

"Because of her psychic talent and her fighting abilities, Fatima becomes the first female Khamsin warrior of the wind and Tarik's bodyguard. Tarik, the sheikh's proud son, fights to have her removed and assign her to a different position...in his bed."

Bonnie is a regular contributor over at Unusual Historicals, and I got the chance to meet her at nationals. The poor dear was stuck at the Literacy Signing with no books, a misfire that impacted all Dorchester authors. She also has a new Nocturne coming out later this year, although drat if I can remember title or specifics. Bonnie? You reading this? Plug yourself, lady!

But how can you not love the idea of a romance set in 1919 Egypt? A romance!! It's unnatural, I tell you. I remember Susan Wiggs setting books in 1899, because that was as close as anyone would allow a historical author to get to the 20th century. Now...dang! The Great War! Guns! Speeding cars! It's so thoroughly modern. Vanak does a great job integrating these modern touches while keeping it firmly within the historical genre.

The Egyptian cultural issues and setting are expertly done. This is Vanak's fifth Egyptian historical, so she is firmly ensconced in the research and flavor of the society and era. Nice touches are scattered throughout, with no heavy or awkward infodumps. I am guilty of this, so I know what they look like. The information adds texture and character to the tale.

All of this praise aside, I found Tarik a bit of a dick. He's a serious Alpha, and my tastes never run toward that style of hero. I know a great many readers who loves them some alpha manflesh. Go! Have at him! And I had a bit of an issue with Fatima because of her name. Again, it's just me. My sweet little four-yo neighbor in Madison, Fatima, kept popping into my mind. But I assume this isn't a going concern for the majority of romance readers!

However, Fatima's motivations seemed more nebulous. She wants to be a warrior. Wants to be a warrior. Be a warrior. Warrior. Ok...but why? Her motivation for acting in any given manner stems from her desire to be taken seriously as a fighter, but the desire to engage in that line of work is never psychologically explained. Women who pursue masculine occupations are often given more convincing back stories, and these back stories often stem from personal trauma. Something sets them up to take a difficult path. Fatima has no trauma; her family is solid and well-adjusted. So this is just her heart's dream? To do battle? If that's the case, I just couldn't relate to her driving passion.

Once they start with the sex, there's just no stopping these two. They seemed too busy enjoying each other to take the plot seriously. And with regard to the sex, I never got the impression that Fatima assumed any sort of control. When Tarik laid it on, she got all mindless. I like more vulnerability on the part of the man, sexually, which I just didn't find with Tarik. Like I said: too alpha for me.

However, I enjoyed the first half of the book a great deal, specifically the initiation ceremonies and the smoldering tension. This is a fat, old-fashioned historical with nice detail and a real sense of inhabiting another place and time. Also, the contrast between what Fatima imagines--with regard to becoming a warrior and her obsession with Tarik--and what actually transpires is a good look at life. Dreams and reality sometimes diverge a great deal.

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