Delicious. This regency romance started in Cairo, Egypt. The exotic flavor is further enhanced by a girl masquerading as a boy. Then there are sea voyage and pirates, lies and secrets, the prim rigidity of the British society and the unbreakable family ties. Among all those imbroglios, the two protagonists try to understand each other and themselves.
Ayisha lived her entire life in Cairo, hiding in plain sight as a street boy. If anyone guessed she was a young white woman without a family, she would be in trouble, probably sold at an auction as a slave, a sexual plaything. So she dirties her face as a camouflage, binds her breasts, and wears man’s clothing. So far, nobody has penetrated her disguise, but now, a young Englishman came to town. He asks questions in the market and shows her old portrait to everyone. He is ruining her life. It’s only a matter of time before the slavers made the connection and snatched her.
Rafe travels to Egypt in search of Lady Cleeve’s long-lost granddaughter. The old lady was a friend of his late grandma, and besides, he needs to escape an unwanted marriage his family has arranged for him. Egypt seems a fitting destination, far away from his matchmaking relatives. When someone tries to steal the portrait of the girl he is looking for, he sets a trap for the thief. But his trap springs on someone totally unexpected.
The story gallops helter-skelter, from one misadventure to another, and the author doesn’t always take care of all the loose ends, but it doesn’t matter in the long run. The two heroes more than make up for any and all logical glitches in the plot.
Ayisha is smart and sensible, loyal and loving. She would claw the eyes of anyone who would hurt her friends, but she is vulnerable, and she knows it. If her disguise is bust, she can’t stay in Cairo, but she can’t go to England either, even though her father was an Englishman. She is at the crossroad of her life, and every path in front of her is studded with complications.
Rafe is cold. From a very young age, he’s learned that loving means hurting, so he doesn’t allow himself to love. Not loving makes him strong, almost invincible. It takes the warmth of Ayisha’s heart, born in the heat of Cairo, to melt his frozen soul, but once the ice retreats, it could never get hold of him again.
The story is light-hearted and charming, and the writing oscillates between poignant and funny. One moment, I laughed. The next, I almost cried. Very cathartic read.
An enchanting book.
One plot twist in it made me think of something completely unrelated. While on a ship sailing to England, Rafe got sick, and Ayisha nursed him. His illness looked like a flu to me, with the only symptom being high fever for several days. As they didn’t have any antipyretic drugs at that time, the fever ran its course, inducing delirium at its highest point. She tried to use willow bark to lower his body temperature, but it didn’t seem to help.
Suddenly, I was grateful to our pharma for having antipyretics widely available. In the Western society today, there is probably no one who never used aspirin or ibuprofen or other drugs reducing fever. They are available without prescription, and many people use them to make flu symptoms less uncomfortable for both children and adults.
Of course, those drugs, as any others, have some side effects, especially if abused, but fever, if left unchecked for a long time, could do much more damage than just a mild headache. It could cause problems for most human organs, and did repeatedly before the invention of aspirin in the end of the 19th century. The natural fever-reducing remedy, willow bark, known and used since antiquity, probably needs a very high dosage to be as effective as a regular strength acetaminophen pill.
I never thought I would ever be grateful to the pharma. I hate those guys, but in rare cases, they definitely do some good for humanity. A strange line of thought to be inspired by a fluffy romance novel.