What is a sheikh romance?
The Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction defines it as “a love story set in the deserts of North Africa or the Middle East, featuring an erotic relationship between a Western heroine and an Eastern sheikh or sultan hero.”
The sheikh romance is also referred to as a desert romance.
Does the hero have to be a sheikh in a desert romance?
In popular romantic fiction, a sheikh (pronounced as shake) is a man in power. He might be a king, prince, sultan or the leader of his community.
One common trait of this romance hero is his hypermasculinity. Amy Burge, Ph.D, a lecturer in popular fiction, explains that the sheikh hero “is more than simply a generic alpha hero transplanted into the desert; his alpha masculinity is explicitly constructed in relation to the east in three main ways: the use of the harem motif: the exploitation of a specific animalistic description; and the connection of the sheikh with the culture and landscape of the romance’s east.”
What can readers expect from a sheikh romance?
“In an exotic land where it is rumoured that men still rule,” Jessica Taylor, Ph.D, lecturer in media and cultural studies, says as she describes the sheikh romance, “a tall, dark and handsome sheikh meets a white woman who teaches him how to be ruled by love.”
It’s an oversimplification of the subgenre, but yes, that’s the gist of it.
The differences between the hero and heroine are important in a sheikh romance. They are at odds in cultural values, gender expression and socio-economic power. The heroine is often vulnerable and isolated in the world where the hero rules. She considers herself independent and resourceful but she’s at a loss in the anachronistic desert. The romantic relationship irrevocably alters the hero and heroine. Also, the heroine is transformed by her environment as she rediscovers her power.
“By the end of each book”, according to Associate Professor of History Stacy E. Holden, Ph.D, “the American heroine always decides to live in the Arab world, while the sheikh unswervingly embraces the political and social values of his Western bride.”