Review Title: Good book, but…confusing?

 

Review Note: This book has a publication date of 8/11/2022, but I can’t find it outside of NetGalley. Am I missing something?

 

I like to know exactly what I’m getting myself into whenever I pick up a book. If the intent were for the reader to go in blind with this, I would have liked to know that too. That wasn’t the case here.

There are things I loved about the story itself, so I’ll start with those.

Had this been advertised as an untitled story (i.e. not Kumbi Saleh or Babylonia), I would have loved it a lot more [reasons for this are explained below]. The premise of the story itself is terrific. A leader gets injured in battle and is pretty much expected to die. A mysterious stranger swoops in and nurses her back to health. Other things happen in the interim. What shines through is the hero’s utmost love and devotion/dedication to the heroine, even though the reader is kept in the dark throughout most of the book as to his motivations. The heroine is a typical royal/leader who doesn’t want to show weakness or vulnerability even though her body dictates that she does otherwise. The steam doesn’t pick up until the 60% point of the book.

Their love story is good (it could have been done organically to make it better). I would rate their sexual chemistry four stars (out of five). I can’t say more without spoiling the book itself or revealing major plot points – but that’s also because the author keeps things intentionally vague throughout since we only get the heroine’s POV throughout the story. The ending is abrupt, so it doesn’t say if this is a HEA or HFN ending. I was left wondering…will there be a Book 2? If yes, I’ll read it!

The trigger warnings are appropriate – it could have benefited from one or two more warnings, though.

Overall, I would give this a 5-star based on the cover (as provided by NetGalley), blurb, and book title. That drops to a 3-star after I incorporate the confusing aspects of this book.

 

Now, onto the confusing…

First things first, the book cover. NetGalley identifies the book title as Kumbi Saleh by Ayura Ayira. The blurb is captivating. The book cover is stunning – the headdress and the side profile of the character on the front. These three things led me to believe that this is a romance novel set somewhere in Africa – or at least inspired by it. These are the things that set this book apart from other books. As a black woman, I love seeing someone who looks like me on the cover of a book and set in the continent I was born and raised in. These are the types of books I will recommend to my family and friends. These are the types of books I will heavily promote on my reviews blog. Sure, I judged the book by its cover, but this is what I loved and what drew me to the book in the first place. It will attract a lot of readers in this niche market too.

For those who don’t know, Koumbi Saleh, sometimes called Kumbi Saleh, is the site of a ruined medieval town in southeast Mauritania that may have been the capital of the Ghana Empire. Wikipedia has more information.

However, the metadata embedded in the eBook identifies the book title as Babylonia by Ayura Ayira, with a completely different book cover. This comes across as deceptive. If the intent was to decide what book title and book cover works best, why not just ask that up-front?

 

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a beautiful cover. Just pick one or the other for this book and go with it.

Also, in case anyone was wondering, I prefer the original Kumbi Saleh cover that was advertised. This second one (Babylonia) may appeal more to the masses, though.

 

That being said, I wouldn’t say it is ready for publication, seeing as there are unanswered questions and unresolved storylines.

Why the title Protectress? Since everyone is human in this book, why not say The Queen of the Kingdom? From what I could tell, this is not an adult fantasy since there were no magic powers conveyed in the story.

We didn’t need the scenes at the beginning of the book where one of her maids/caretakers was basically fondling her unconscious and dying body. It feels a little….crummy, to be honest. It was violating, too, since it wasn’t consensual. The protectress would never have submitted to a maid doing this to her. Even if she were dying, it doesn’t make it okay. I’m sure that sort of thing happened back then, but in the context of this story, I don’t think it moved it forward in a meaningful way. Focusing on the other thing that happened instead (no spoilers!)

I get that the main characters had a prior connection that needed to be built on in the story. Not just going from I want to run away from you straight to I want you to plow into me repeatedly. Make their bonding somewhat natural, even in captivity. Outside of the sex, that is.

Is it a historical romance? If it is, please say so. I deduced this based on the lack of medical facilities and limitations in the protectress’ medical care, the title Kumbi Saleh, etc. But knowing that right off the bat is good, too, especially with the differing book titles and metadata.

As for her kidnapper, what on earth happened to his brother? It needed to have been explained why it had to be him. And also what happened to his brother, based on the rules of royalty, succession, etc. Seeing as this was clarified at 95% of the book, it leaves it with no resolution.

The pacing is far too slow. The story could have benefited from a dual POV. Getting the hero’s point of view might have helped and maybe answered some of the questions posed.

Could it be clear as to what genres this book falls under? It is an erotic romance; that much is clear—probably a Historical romance. There are a handful of tropes to go with this. It is not a dark romance. She was captured, yes, but she wasn’t tortured. Instead, she was loved, protected, taken care of, and nursed back to health by her mysterious stranger. I’d call this a forced proximity trope, but not a dark romance. If it was meant to be dark, go there. Have her stab him or filet him like she kept threatening to. Have her return to her home and decapitate the maid who fondled her in her unconscious state. Or the maid who wanted to smother her. Provide instances of her ruthlessness via flashbacks, dreams/nightmares, etc. Something that demonstrates her to be the protectress she is portrayed to be outside of her weakened state. The book focuses so much on her sacrifice for her people, but if she is who they say she is – show us that one way or another.

I hope the dark romance tag is taken off the genre classifications. Otherwise, you will have many dark romance readers feeling even more deceived – in addition to everything else.

So…a 3-star rating.

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