In this historical romance, an intriguing idea is diminished by clichÇd writing and a main character who is at first witless and insensitive and then almost lifeless. Hylton (Summer of the Flamingoes, 1991, etc.) starts out auspiciously with the story of Laura Levinson-Gore. In the 1920s, fresh out of finishing school, this daughter of a social-climbing American mother and a British father sails from England to Egypt with her mother and younger sister. On board she meets Egyptian prince Ahmed Hassan Farag, an Oxford graduate returning home. The two share a few kisses, but Ahmed has been promised to marry someone else and insists that their cultures will not accept each other. Although she has been rushed into an engagement with a man from a noble family, Laura visits Ahmed dressed in an Egyptian costume for a masquerade ball and pouts, ``I can look just as Egyptian as you can.'' He still resists, but while in Egypt she tracks Ahmed down and runs off with him. En route to see his parents and ask for their blessing, a bomb kills Ahmed but leaves the pregnant Laura alive. When her mother insists that she give the illegitimate child up for adoption, Laura accepts an offer from Ahmed's parents to live in a secluded palace. Later, isolated in the desert and then married to a cruel Syrian cousin of Ahmed's, she retreats into herself. Laura then chooses to send her daughter Rosetta to board at a London school where, naturally, she encounters the upper-crust offspring of her mother's long-lost friends and relatives. Hylton's descriptions of both people and places have a numbing vagueness to them: Ahmed is ``a splendid example of young Egyptian manhood.'' What aspires to be an examination of cultural difference instead disintegrates into a routine romance with a poorly painted, if exotic, setting.