I want to start off by saying that the cover of Taken is one of my favorite covers of the year. It is striking in the intensity of the model's stare and clearly it's not a cover that has launched a thousand previous books.This guy just seems to stare through you (even though he's a bit heavy on the smudgy eyeliner) and dares you to pass up on the opportunity to read his story inside. With that cover and a fair idea of what the book was about, I was pretty certain I was in for a fantastic few hours of reading. I mean, this had all of the makings of a book that I should have loved. A story set in the early 1900s. African-American siblings who were not destitute, but educated and successful. A heroine who's a nurse in 1908, and a foreign hero, arrogant and unwilling to take no for an answer. Strong and plucky, our heroine is someone who would keep our hero on his toes and make him work for her affections. Add in a journey to Africa and rich, descriptive writing - well, just gimme a comfy spot, a glass of wine and don't interrupt me I'm reading. Sigh. Unfortunately, Taken didn't earn the five star rating that I would like to give it.
There were some parts that just didn't work for me. These problems aren't so bad that I hated the book or that I wouldn't recommend it, but they were annoying, eye-rolling and "yeah right!" inducing nonetheless.
An Idea of What It's About
Khalid Francois Duïs is a wealthy man who is in New York preparing to race in the Vanderbilt Cup. He's been invited to the home of his former roommate from Yale, Dr. Harry Bryant, whom he hasn't seen in years. Khalid is a chauvinist but in all fairness his beliefs are based off of customs that he's probably been taught his whole life. Unbeknownst to him, as he's spewing his views on women and the only purpose he believes they serve, Harry's sister Olivia overhears him. The two have never met, but the comments flowing out of his mouth are enough to make her instantly dislike him. Unfortunately, her body and hormones seem to be at odds with her brain and her reactions show that she likes him quite a bit. In fact, she can barely think properly once she actually lays eyes on the man. Khalid is also highly attracted to Olivia, almost mesmerized by her. He instantly knows that he wants to get her in his bed, despite her being his friend's sister. Unfortunately, he is rejected after sharing an intimate moment and making her an offer. Ego trampled he decides to take matters into his own hands. Despite his friendship with Harry, Khalid kidnaps Olivia so that he can have her until he's tired of her. A test of wills ensues, but emotions and acceptance eventually change both of their outlooks. But when doubt raises its ugly head decisions that greatly affect them both are made.
The book opens to Khalid playing a game of Russian roulette. He is empty, devoid of hope and the will to live. This is conveyed so eloquently that it immediately sucked me right in. What had happened to put him in such a state? What kind of seedy place was this? What a great way to start off a book! Later in the story, the author's description of the establishment where he is trying to end his life is vivid, as is the reactions of his two brothers. Their disgust and horror over the place and Khalild's actions are just wonderful. Khalid's downward spiral isn't something that he simply shook off either. I would have loved a bit more about his recovery, but I understand the size of the book only allowed so much of that. Still, I'm glad he wasn't a superman unfazed by the destructive path that he'd taken.
Another great feature of this story is the travel aspect and the obvious research that went into it. I also really liked Harry and Khalid's friendship. They bonded while in college where they were both outsiders in a predominately white, and I imagine prejudiced, university. Although they hadn't kept in touch, the affection was there.
Okay, I didn't like Olivia's character. Her behavior was contradictory and she just didn't seem believable to me. To go into much detail would be to give too much away, but lets just say that Khalid must be working with some pretty powerful pheromones, cause Miss Olivia could barely control herself. One dinner near this man and girlfriend was exploring herself and ready to let him do a little exploration too! If you take into consideration that Olivia lived in 1908 then it really wasn't proper behavior. I get the author wanted Olivia to be a modern woman, but I felt her modern behavior should have been consistent with the time period. She was too modern at times if that makes sense.
Khalid and Olivia in love? I guess I couldn't see it or understand how it happened. They eventually start sexing it up, and you know from the start that they have some seriously lustful feelings towards one another, but it felt like she just sort of succumbs. Once Olivia succumbs to his magnetism and both of their lust, he manages to miraculously shut off the chauvinism gene and he does a few considerate things. This in turn leads to a case of Stockholm Syndrome. Khalid on the other hand is just obsessed with her, yet it didn't come off as love. Maybe if there had been some great adventure after the kidnapping that made them really see each other and eventually fall in love, but nope - didn't happen that way.
My Final Thoughts:
Despite my complaints Taken isn't a terrible book. There are some very strong scenes that grab you and it is wonderfully researched. Perhaps I just expected too much of Taken because it didn't meet my expectations or hopes for it. I wish it felt more historical and that there had been an honest romance and a grand adventure. This won't be a problem for many, I'm sure, but it was a problem for me. Overall I didn't put the book down and I don't feel that it was a waste of my time. Despite not meeting its potential, I do recommend reading it for the imagery alone and for a few hours of light escape. I'm rating Taken 3 out of 5