Title: Kismet's Kiss
Author: Cate Rowan
Release Date: August 2010
This is an unlikely tale of love. Our hero, Kuramos, is Sultan of Kad, father of three children, and husband of six women. Our heroine, Varene, is a royal healer from Teganne, where they don't practice polygynous marriages (yes, polygynous, the people Kad aren't wild about a 'multiple husbands' scenario). She is brought to Kad after a mysterious illness strikes the people closest to the Sultan—his wives and children—as well as certain other members of the royal household. With his own physician dead of an unrelated accident, Kuramos must turn to his enemies, requesting that Teganne send their own healer to aid him. Soon Varene and Kuramos find themselves intensely attracted to each other, but both are struggling with the vast cultural and social differences that separate them and challenge their ideas of what true love should look like.
This is another story that I began as a free read on my kindle, and purchased after reading the first 10%. The price is a bit higher than the other tales I have reviewed so far (in fact, at $4.00 it is close to what I pay for my beloved Terry Pratchett books when they are on sale) but I think it is worth the cost. This romance was unique and surprising. The story is told in the third person, typically from Varene's or Kuramos's point of view. At first, while in Varene's point of view, I bristled a bit at her sense of superiority over Kuramos's culture. I feared that this book might simply endorse old colonial stereotypes. But I was pleasantly surprised. Those colonial views were Varene's, not the authors, and they slowly changed over the course of the book. The book neither endorses nor outright condemns polygyny, though over the course of the book the general sense is that a monogamous relationship is preferred. However, Rowan explores the vast cultural web of her fictional country of Kad, creating a society in which the reader can see the logic of accepting multiple wives, even if this is not endorsed as a positive arrangement. Rowan demonstrates that things are rarely black and white.
There are, however, several things that bothered me about this book. The first is very minor. All the characters in this tale are hundreds of years old. Kuramos, for example, is over 200. But there doesn't seem to be any real point to this longevity. It doesn't serve any function in the story, leaving me wondering needlessly about it for far to long, only to realize that this aspect of the fantasy world Rowan has created is essentially inert in the story. I say this is minor because Rowan has written other tales in the same universe, and in those tales it may well be that this longevity serves a purpose. If not, it seems to be difference for difference's sake, which I found mildly annoying. It was as though the author was whispering in my ear 'see, this is a fictional world' every time someone's age was mentioned.
The second thing that bothered me was more substantial, and more problematic to blog about; the ending. I don't want to give the ending away, since I found this to be an entertaining read and I don't want to spoil it for others, but I must express some of my dissatisfaction here. The main plot arc of the mysterious illness striking members of the sultan's family mostly wraps up surprisingly early in this tale. Basically, that plot arc is all but finished by the time you are a little more than half-way through the book. As I looked at my Kindle's indicator and realized that I was almost 60% of the way through, and the mystery was mostly solved, I was puzzled. What was the rest of this book going to be about? Just the romance?
Basically, yes. Not that there wasn't a lot to explore in the romance. There was cultural differences, scars from previous relationships, and six wives to deal with. That's a lot. But I felt a bit cheated. Romance novels without story-lines just seem a bit boring to me. I was losing interest as I flipped through the pages. Near the end, there are some surprise plot twists, but they felt to me as though they came right out of the blue. There was little foreshadowing of these events, and I began to feel as though these was less of a coherent story than an attempt to rekindle my interest late in the game with some stuff pulled out of thin air. I think the mystery could have been handled in a more suspenseful way than it was, and I got the impression that the story was somewhat sacrificed to the romance.
Finally, the conclusion of the romance story arch also left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. I wanted another chapter or two illustrating how things would play out. And I'm not entirely convinced that I buy everyone's motivations and decisions. We are dealing with eight people in this relationship, effectively: Varene, Kuramos, and the six wives. I don't feel that I got to know all the characters well enough to accept their decisions (and with one in particular, I don't buy the decision at all as fitting with the character I came to know).
However, Kuramos was a strong, sexy and appealing male lead. Varene was an enjoyable and sympathetic female lead, and the surprise of having a romance in this unique situation kept me reading. I'm impressed with the angle, and with how effective it was.