On Grady Ormond’s 18th birthday he’s introduced to Prince Kamran Izadi. Prince Kamran is a guest of Grady’s father, the new U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, at a cocktail party. Despite being warned explicitly by his father that homosexuals are mutilated or killed for that orientation in this part of the world (it’s 1978, so it’s not changed much in almost 40 years), Grady can’t help feeling an attraction to the charming and beautiful prince.
Kamran is living in a family estate in Karachi, Pakistan for his last summer before he marries his fiancé, a girl he has never met, and accepts his place in Iranian society. Looking for a guide to this new locale, Grady accepts Kam’s offer to visit the city market and tour the area under the close watch of Kam’s sturdy bodyguards. Grady’s attraction to Kam is not unrequited, but the matter of being together is not one they can easily manage. While Grady understands the danger is high, the loneliness he perceives from Kam is also great. No part of Kam’s life has been his own choosing, and Grady naïvely laments that even as he recognizes the difficulty Kam will face as a gay man in a high profile marriage.
This is a well-told forbidden love story with danger around each turn. Kam’s father, the head of SAVAK (Iranian secret police), turns up unexpectedly and his menacing presence is less-than-fortuitous. Grady’s got serious fears to contend with as a young gay American in a homophobic nation having an illicit affair with Prince Kam. Their love story is bittersweet. Kam treats their weeks together as the only love he’ll ever know, while Grady urges Kam to forsake his title and run off to Europe on his yacht. Kam’s a steady guy, though. He doesn’t want to abandon his people in Iran, most especially his former nanny who was more like a mother than his own.
I was really pulled into this historical novel; the elements of uprising and homophobia are ever-present. Grady and Kam must guard themselves from everyone, knowing that one slip-up could mean death. It gives an edge of desperation to their love story and sexytimes. Add to that Iran’s political powder keg is poised for explosion. Kam’s uncle, the Shah of Iran, is under incredible pressure to maintain control of his country, and Ayatollah Khomeni is urging the populace to violence from his exile in Paris. Civil war is on the horizon, and it’s even more imperative to Grady to convince Kam to flee and seek asylum. What good could come from Kam returning to Iran on the brink of war, he repeatedly argues. I absolutely loved the elements of Pakistani and Muslim culture that were woven into this book. The Persian poetry, the caste system, the daily calls to prayer, all of this helped me to feel as if I was sitting beside Grady, learning it all as he did. Even the philosophy of the royalty–who claim their culture is Persian, not Iranian. Having known people who fled Iran in the uprising, those comments rang true to my own personal experiences.
The end is a thrill ride. I couldn’t set the book down until I hit the last page because I feared it would all go very, very wrong. That said, I really appreciated the Epilogue for not being a saccharine “And they lived happily ever after” cop-out. While I’m the first to swoon for wedding bells and HEAs, these characters faced real impediments to their continued happiness, and the Epilogue, while assuring the reader that Kam and Grady get resolution, is not the hearts and flowers type of ending. It’s a “real-life is hard and we work through it every day” ending, and I respected that. I left the book wishing I’d known a bit more about Iran’s uprising in 1978, but also recognizing that unrest in Iran continues, and forty years later the Shah’s “enlightened” ways, those which were overthrown in the civil war, have more support with the populace. It’s interesting times, both then and now, and I applaud the author for bringing ethnic and religious diversity to the genre. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys near-historical romance and diverse ethnic characters.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.