The Falcon & the Dove
by Bonnie Vanak
(Leisure, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-5132-X
***
The Falcon & the Dove is set in a unique time and place - Egypt in 1892. Although the setting and legend it describes overshadows the romance at times, this debut novel is an entertaining story.

Jabari bin Tarik Hassid is the sheikh of the Khamsin warriors, a tribe sworn to protect the ancient grounds of Queen Kiya. Legend has it that Kiya and her lover, Khamsin warrior Ranefer, swore eternal love and buried the Almah, a sacred disc that is purported to hold the power of ancient kings. Kiya’s husband, Pharoah Akhenaten and his first wife Nefertiti, abused the power so Kiya buried it in secret. The Khamsin warriors have sworn to protect it from interlopers. Jabari is the descendant of those same warriors. Legend also says that peace will reign when Kiya is reincarnated and reunited with her true love.

Jabari’s tribe makes their living on horses, breeding pure Arabians and selling them. A neighboring tribe, the Al Hajid, often disrupt their trading and are the sworn enemies of the Khamsin. This feud dates back many years to Jabari’s grandfather, who fell in love with a woman of the Al Hajid tribe, who then jilted him on their wedding day.

In 1892, an archeological team arrives to dig for the lost city of Akhenaten and search for the Almah. One of those who arrive is a lovely young American who is bound and determined to make her way in a man’s world. Elizabeth Summers, fresh from Boston and her woman’s suffragette activities, wants to be a real part of the dig. The leader, Flinders Petrie, had agreed to her participation as a scribe. Elizabeth’s Uncle Nahid is the excavation leader, and he and Elizabeth are on a secret mission. Nahid’s mother, herself an Egyptian, lies in a Boston institution fighting tuberculosis. Elizabeth and Nahid are seeking the Almah for some special healing potions, which are said to be inscribed in the disc.

Elizabeth searches and Jabari protects. When they meet, they find a unique attraction. Elizabeth begins to have “visions” of the past, which she doesn’t understand. When her visions lead her to the location of the Almah, Jabari kidnaps her and removes her to his harem. It is here their attraction develops into more - appreciation for their spirit, understanding of their differences and the blossoming of more. Their destiny becomes clear. Without sharing all the twists and turns, suffice it to say, their journey is packed with barriers, questions of loyalty and the discovery of love and honor.

Elizabeth and Jabari are strong characters who all but jump from the pages. Vulnerable is not a word I would use to describe them, yet they each have a softer side that comes out when with each other. Jabari is the traditional hero who has been raised to be the man and struggles with his acceptance of Elizabeth as an equal. Elizabeth demands nothing less. Their stubbornness leads to many misunderstandings and it is this that is both a strong and weak point in the book.

The interactions and relationship building scenes are engaging. I enjoyed the interplay and the back and forth of their action - reaction scenarios. But this got tiresome after awhile. Their obstinacy leads to some actions when apart that serves to complicate their lives, but seem contrived at times. For instance, just as Elizabeth is softening to Jabari, and realizes her love for him, she is confronted with a choice of following her uncle or showing her love and loyalty to Jabari. With no hesitation, she helps her uncle. Although this leads to an exciting “rescue” ending, it seemed out of sync with where Elizabeth’s actions had been leading up to that point.

The setting of Egypt is unique for a historical story. The author has done her homework and clearly depicts the life and vagaries of the desert tribes. The customs and rites are detailed and contrasted with Elizabeth’s experiences in a manner that leads to understanding with no value judgments.

Overall, the blending of the legend with Elizabeth and Jabari’s love is handled with care. The hint of mysticism adds rather than detracts from the tale. And the secondary characters are generally well developed and integral to the movement of the plot.

The thing that keeps this from full recommended status is the tendency of Elizabeth and Jabari to hang onto their misconceptions slightly too long. This leads to what I see as inconsistent feelings and actions, which directly influence a number of misunderstandings. The use of other plot devices would have worked better.

Keep an eye on Bonnie Vanak. If The Falcon & the Dove is an example of her unique ability to blend legend and romance, she has a promising future ahead of her.

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