Title & buy link: Desert Nights
Author: Kitti Bernetti
Cover Artist: Unknown
Publisher: Xcite Books
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novella (65 pages, 19,000 words)
Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: A badly written, badly edited Arabian Nights fantasy.
In the heat of the desert two men face danger but discover love…
Ashmit is poised to fulfil his life-long duty and become the next sheikh of Al Nashan, when his father sends him to the desert on one final mission. He must rescue English teacher, Russ Edwards, from a group of insurgents who have kidnapped him.
The moment Ashmit sets eyes on Russ, feelings awake within him that he has never experienced during his sheltered upbringing – pure, unadulterated lust. As the days and nights pass in the desert, Ashmit and Russ grow ever-closer, from sharing their deepest secrets to spending a night in an ancient temple adorned with erotic murals.
But for all the pleasure, Ashmit is in turmoil. Not only is he trying to get to grips with his sexuality, but also the prospect of betraying his father, his wife-to-be and the entire nation. Life in the desert is one thing, but what will happen when they return to the palace? Which will win out: duty or love?
I have to be honest and say that when I picked this book based on the blurb, I was expecting something pretty cheesy, an M/M version of a Harlequin desert sheikh story. Well, it certainly delivers on that angle, except what the Harlequin novel does in 50,000 words, this one tries—and fails—to do in under 20,000 words. If this was fanfiction, it’d be a PWP (Plot, What Plot aka Plot Without Purpose). It’s like something you’d expect to find on Nifty or Literotica, an erotic fantasy with a pasted-on romance with extremely flimsy characterisation, many convenient plot devices and a whole lot of hand-waving.
The blurb pretty much describes the entire plot arc. Ashmit (who has an Indian name for reasons unexplained) has been sent into the desert to rescue an Englishman, Russ, who teaches the children of the small but wealthy kingdom of Al Nashan (again, it’s not clear if he teaches just the children of the royal family or what, but who cares about backstory, we’re just here for the porn, right?). Ashmit tracks down the ‘gun-toting captors’ (no good reason is given as to why Russ was captured and why the Crown Prince was sent alone without any back-up to rescue him), yet he’d rather jerk himself off behind a sand-dune over how hot Russ looks beaten up and half-naked. However, Ashmit can’t bring himself to do the deed, because as the heir to the throne he’s supposed to remain pure until his wedding day.
He turns his lust for Russ into anger. Ashmit believes Russ has no business teaching the children of Al Nashan anything about the West, despite what Ashmit’s father the King wants for the future of the country. Then with just one look, Ashmit suddenly falls for Russ, even though literally half a page earlier, he hated him.
Following an extremely improbable rescue, Ashmit sweeps the chained Russ up onto his horse and they ride off. Russ’ feelings are described thus: relief surged through his body like a snort of cocaine, which is surely one of the most inappropriate similes I’ve ever read.
Further improbabilities occur when the two men settle down for the night around a campfire (Russ is still in chains) and share a flask of whiskey which Russ had hidden in his trousers. Not sure how the terrorists missed that, but never mind. Ashmit doesn’t have a problem with drinking alcohol and with his defences somewhat lowered, he allows himself to be seduced by Russ. Just as a reminder, this is a guy who’s been kept prisoner, half starved, beaten up and pistol-whipped for the last few days.
A blowjob sends Ashmit into huge confusion and self-doubt, and he acts like a teenage girl for several pages. They continue their journey back to the country’s capital and stay overnight in an ancient temple. Despite the fact that Ashmit knew the whereabouts of this temple, he’s obviously never been there because he’s shocked to find male/male erotic murals on the walls. After art-inspired sex and a declaration of InstaLove from Russ, Ashmit is having a hard time reconciling his wants with the demands of his duties as Crown Prince.
Russ produces a book from his trousers—the same trousers that miraculously hid the whiskey, which makes me wonder just how organised these terrorists were that they let their prisoner keep so much stuff—and tries to make Ashmit read a few enlightening sentences to show him that he’s running away from himself. Instead, Ashmit is forced to admit that he’s illiterate, which gives him and Russ a chance to bond during English lessons. This was probably the scene that bothered me most in the whole story because it just smacks of cultural imperialism and general thoughtlessness on the author’s part. Or maybe I should lighten up, because we’re just here for the porn, right?
When the two men arrive back at the palace, Ashmit is still confused. Fortunately it turns out that the King has no problem with his heir being gay and indeed may have even sent him off on the rescue mission as a test. The ending is massively convenient for everyone concerned and is about as improbable as the rest of the story.
Obviously there’s nothing remotely accurate about the depiction of Arab culture and beliefs, no mention of religion, no mention of taboos against homosexuality. This is purely an erotic romance set in a fantasy Arabia. Once the rather feeble terrorists are dealt with, the only conflict within the story comes from Ashmit, who acts in an increasingly feminised manner. Now I can accept this kind of fantasy story, they can be great fun and really enjoyable, but they need to be believable within the fantasy world and they need to be well written. Desert Nights fails to deliver on these counts. It also fails to deliver in the sex scenes, which are turgid to say the least. An example:
Both hands, still chained together held Ashmit, one caressing his pouches of semen, ready to ignite, the other deftly rubbing pre-come over Ashmit’s purple globe.
Ashmit’s anus is also described as a ‘bud’ several times, which seemed like a really odd word choice since ‘bud’ is usually used in place of ‘clitoris’ in M/F erotic romances, so this kind of made me stop and go ‘huh?’
Overall, this is just not very good. I’m giving it 1.5 stars because although it’s bad, it’s in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, and in that respect it did entertain me. But it’s badly plotted, badly characterised, badly written, badly edited, and the sex is bad too, so I really can’t recommend it.