Title & buy link: Rendezvous in the Palmeraie
Author: Jay Starre
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M historical
Length: Novelette (50 pages)
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: One-handed read let down by stilted prose, lack of conflict and boring characters.
Marc Labelle first glimpses the fabled city of Marrakesh through the fronds of the palm forest on the back of a camel. The young Frenchman hopes to please his father, a banker with interests all over the Mediterranean, with the knowledge and experience he’ll gain on his travels. Yet secretly he yearns for more than the accumulation of wealth, and when he meets Prince Fazil bin-Karesh, something tells him he may find the answer to that elusive
It’s sometime in the late 18th century and young traveller Marc Labelle is coming to the end of a tour that’s lasted several months. His father is a wealthy banker who does business all over the Mediterranean and Marc is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. But for all the wonderful things he’s seen on his tour, Marc feels like he’s missing out on something. Maybe he’ll find what he’s looking for in Marrakesh.
Marc hires a street urchin to show him around the souk, and while he’s watching a snake charmer, an attractive stranger speaks to him. The stranger introduces himself as Prince Fazil bin-Karesh and on hearing that Marc is in the city on business, offers to discuss trade arrangements with him. He invites Marc to his hamam (bathhouse) the next day, and Marc agrees.
Marc wonders if he’s a bit too trusting – he’s only just turned 20 – but thinks he can take care of himself. At the hamam Fazil is very welcoming and seems interested in Marc’s life and his travels. The prince’s masseurs get to work and Marc finds himself getting intimately acquainted with Fazil with the help of the masseurs. Later Fazil reveals that he’s one of fifty offspring of the Sultan and as a minor son he can do as he pleases. He’s a carpet dealer and offers to show Marc around his storeroom the next day.
Marc goes to see one of his father’s business contacts, Daniel Cartier, elsewhere in Marrakesh. Daniel is excited to learn that Marc has made the acquaintance of Fazil and hopes to make a deal for some carpets. As Marc goes around the city, he thinks he spots a man following him – a man who looks a little like Fazil.
Fazil invites Marc on a romantic excursion into the palmeraie – a palm tree grove outside the city, where they enjoy a tea ceremony that Fazil says will bind them together. Then he offers Marc the position of business liaison between himself and the European traders in Marrakesh. Marc will be independent but also able to work with his father’s contacts. Marc is excited by the offer and also agrees to become Fazil’s lover.
But Fazil’s family disapproves of his budding relationship with Marc and intends to put a stop to their romance…
This is a strange little book. At first I quite liked the old-fashioned tone it sets, but after the first few pages I found it boring and even though this is a novelette, it took me a while to read it because I felt so disconnected from it. I’m guessing this is meant to be a pastiche of those old travelogues you can find in second-hand book shops, the kind of book written by rich people doing their Grand Tour and encountering ‘the natives’. If so, then it succeeds, because the antiquarian tone fits the travelogue feel of the story. Unfortunately, it’s also quite distancing so I never felt like I really knew or connected with the characters. The POV sometimes slips into 3rd person omniscient too, which again fits the old-fashioned tone but does nothing to lessen the distance between reader and characters.
Marc and Fazil are never really fleshed out as characters. They’re pretty much cardboard cut-outs who move through the story and have sex. They have very brief backstories, no real motivation apart from lust, so when the InstaLove comes along we just have to take it on face value rather than feeling any emotional connection between the two men. There’s also a huge lack of conflict. Okay this is a novelette and any conflict present would of necessity be easy to overcome, but the opposition offered by Fazil’s family seems very vague and the resolution seems feeble, especially considering the ‘I love you’s exchanged right beforehand.
There’s lots of nice details in the story to give a sense of place, but again after the first few pages they feel more like lists than descriptions. Here’s an example of the prose:
He was taken aback by the stunning view, so unexpected it was. The ochre-red city spread out at his feet to the north, dotted with an amazing amount of greenery for a desert town; tall palms, cypress, roses, orange, lemon, olive trees, and the like. It was utterly lovely in the flush of a desert dawn, but what took his breath away lay beyond the red walls of Marrakesh.
As I said, this is great for a porny pastiche but not so great if you’re wanting anything more.
There were a couple of oddities in the story, for example I thought it was a bit strange that Marc had never been in a hamam before yet he’d spent a year travelling from Antioch to Algiers!
The other thing that bugged me was the use of ‘orbs’ to describe eyes. Maybe I’ve read ‘orbs’ too many times in bad fanfic but it’s just a word that I dislike in the context of eyes. Also the description of Fazil’s cock as a ‘fuck-spear’ made me laugh, but thankfully that particular description only turns up once.
Rendezvous in the Palmeraie is one of Dreamspinner’s ‘Bittersweet Dreams’ books, so you know in advance there’s no happy ending. Not that it really matters with this book since I didn’t make any sort of connection to the characters so I couldn’t care less if they stayed together or not.
Overall this is a good pastiche of Victorian-type porn but if you’re looking for depth, plot, emotion and characterisation then you won’t find it here. The porn aspect didn’t work so well for me either, but I can see that some people would find it arousing. Fans of the author will probably enjoy the story but it just didn’t quite come together for me.