Volume 1 ~ The Sheikh's Reluctant Bride (Damasareta Hanayome)
After her mother's death, Jessica gows up in a foster care believing herself to be an orphan. The discovery of her mother's family in Bha'Khar, a desert kingdom far away from the States, fills her with much wonder and anxiety. As she leaves for Bha'Khar, she is surprised to find a royal jet as well as Sheikh Kardahl, second in line to the throne, waiting for her. To Jessica's amazement, he says, "You are my betrothed, chosen by my family. You are my bride."
Volume 2 ~ The Sheikh's Contract Bride (Ai o Suteta Sheikh)
Beth would do anything for her twin sister, Addie, who has been betrothed to a sheikh from young age and has led a life of high expectation and heavy responsibility. Beth, unlike her sister, spent a lonesome childhood receiving little attention from her parents. The twins have grown up trusting and depending on each other. As the day of meeting the sheikh nears, Addie confides in Beth with her secret love for another man. To save her dearest Addie, Beth decides to go to the desert kingdom of Bha'Khar, pretending to be her twin sister!
Ai wo Suteta Sheikh was digitally published in English as part of the Brothers of Bha'Khar series, with the volumes titled The Sheikh's Reluctant Bride and The Sheikh's Contract Bride, by Harlequin / SB Creative Corp. from February 22 to December 1, 2010.
Before going into this review, I will mention that I read only the first story. I could not bring myself to read the second after that.
The art is not particularly inconsistent, but it is reminiscent of the early 1990s. I dislike this style, but that is of course a matter of taste.
As far as the premise goes, the story had some potential as a shoujo. However, the story feels exceedingly rushed. We know the characters fall in love because we are told they fall in love. There is absolutely nothing that happens between them to show this developing; other than cheesy lines, there's just one
bit of almost total nudity (for a suggested sex scene) that comes out of nowhere, at which point the two have supposedly already fallen in love. The story feels like absolutely nothing happened, except we were told things happened.
This is where this story really falls apart. Jessica, the lead female, is stereotypically weepy and angsty, not wanting to fall in love with a "playboy," but doing so anyway, and without much protest. Despite the fact that she never shows strength of mind or character or anything else, Kardahl declares her a "beautiful, tender, yet strong girl." Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but she has not demonstrated anything else at this point.
Kardahl is slightly better, but only until he falls for Jessica. He has a past love whose death he still struggles with, and because of whom he cannot love anyone else. With a history like that, particularly since he feels survivor's guilt, it just feels asinine that he should declare himself in love with this woman he barely knows who comes across as rather insipid. His character could have been developed into something very good, with the right female lead and the right pace of development, but since the story skipped past development with a few terrible lines instead of actually showing a reason for either of the two to fall in love, Kardahl remains an extraordinarily shallow character.
For people who expect a strong story and good characterization, or who have trouble stretching their suspension of disbelief over the development of feelings without any apparent reason, this manga will probably be as grating as it was for me. If all you want is some fluff and cheese, it may serve that purpose reasonably well, but I have enjoyed some very cheesy shoujo and this was still too much for me, personally.
In short, the story fell apart because the author did not take the time to make the characters or their romance believable. No one is developed past the most basic of backstories, and the characters claim to see traits in each other that are perfectly invisible to the reader. The story simply asks the reader to believe far too much about the characters without showing any of it.