It’s been six years since Harlequin officially made its foray into India, though libraries and second-hand bookstore racks have been no strangers to Mills and Boon romantic fiction for decades now. Over the past couple of years, the publisher has been bringing out books by Indian authors too, with some of them already launching their third and fourth titles.
Hitting the stands early this year, Harlequin’s Kingdom Come -Would He Risk His Mission for Her Love? by Arti V Raman, is set, for the most part, in the picturesque Kashmir valley and Ladakh, familiar to most Indians, if not through first-hand experience, then through literature, films and travel pieces. The rest of the action is largely distributed between UK -- London, Yorkshire and nearby locations -- and, close to the climax, Tibet.
The novel tells the story of how Krivi Iyer, scarred by a personal tragedy of his colleague Gemma and her husband Joe being killed in a bomb blast, pursues the suspected terrorist who goes by the nickname The Woodpecker.
Four years after the incident, when the MI5, the British national security and anti-terrorism intelligence service that the trio worked for have moved on- Krivi too has almost given up the mission of finding The Woodpecker as a cold trail.
Then Harold, one of the top men there unearths a new lead: a 90 per cent match to a sibling of the terrorist, the biggest name connected to all the bombings after Bin Laden. Enter 29-year-old Ziya Maarten, a London School of Economics graduate, who is now the manager of Goonj Enterprises, a manufacturer of cricket bats.
The orphaned Ziya was bounced around from one foster home to another and considers the owner of her business Dada Akhtar, a retired army officer and relative of her ‘heart sister’ Noor Saiyed, just like a grandfather she never had.
And Srinagar, Goonj to be specific, is home, a comfortable retreat until Krivi arrives, hot on the tail of the woman suspected to be the terrorist’s sister, and takes up the post of her assistant.
Since it’s a romance novel -- a Mills and Boon at that -- one does know that the two will eventually fall in love. However, it deviates in more ways than one from the set of romance genre conventions that have almost become the Mills and Boon blueprint.
If careless editing and proofreading is one, the other is relative unpredictability of plot and an overall reduced degree of misogyny -- the female protagonist is a strong character who holds her own against an equally strong male character. Characters too are different from the UK publications of the same genre, more real to the Indian imagination, yet somewhat fractured. And the style is almost entirely different: full of military jargon and slang like FUBER and SNAFU in parts with technical details of operations and overly simplistic descriptions of feelings in some others. The intimate scenes give the reader a feeling that the author isn’t too comfortable writing about sex.
It’s neither a typical quick-read romance nor one that calls for serious reading.