A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

9780778314394Format: E-book galley

Length:  384 pages

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Publication Date: April 30, 2013

From the publisher:

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savanna manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

Here’s what I thought:

I’ve read and liked most of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mystery series, but this was her first standalone book for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I got caught up in the story right away. The setting of 1920’s Kenya is just perfect–I was drawn right in and didn’t want to leave it behind when the book was finished.

Delilah Drummond is an absolutely fascinating heroine, strong-willed and daring, and although she comes off as a bit spoiled in the early scenes in Paris, that impression was soon corrected for me when the story shifts to Kenya. There, Delilah manages to pull an abandoned farm back together, slide effortlessly into her role as caretaker of the local tribe of Kikuyu, and keep up a completely guilt-free affair with a local artist on the side.

Although there are themes running throughout about the place of women in society, colonialism, race relations, and the political issues of the day, the book is mainly a showcase for the development of Delilah as a character.  The more I got to know her, the more interesting I found her to be. As the story progresses we learn more about Delilah’s past and how it has made her into the woman that she is–someone who doesn’t pass up a chance to drink, smoke and dance even when her world is crumbling around her.

The relationship between Delilah and Ryder is just delicious, and although I’m not a big fan of the alpha male character in general, I loved Ryder. I also truly appreciated Delilah’s refreshingly uncomplicated attitude towards sex. She doesn’t spend her time pining away for a man who isn’t hers, but she doesn’t throw herself at every man she sees, either. She makes choices and isn’t ashamed of them, and she never for a moment wavers in her sense of self-worth.

The overriding relationship that is developed through the course of the book, however, is Delilah’s relationship with her new country. Although a mystery is introduced and solved by the end of the book, the real resolution for me came when Delilah decides whether or not to stay in Kenya. Her feelings for the land and its people are as important as those she develops for her romantic interest, and the ending of the book interweaves the two nicely.

If I had one complaint, it would be the numerous nods to Out of Africa that I noticed throughout the book. Although I love the movie, it jarred me out of this story to keep being reminded of a different one and took away from my reading experience slightly. It’s understandable that there would be similar references and images with both stories taking place in the same time and location, but sometimes they were just too alike for me (for example, the scene with the servant wearing white gloves and some of the conversations between Delilah and Gideon).

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and recommend it to fans of historical fiction with strong characters and a dash of romance.

Note: Raybourn has a prequel novella out now entitled Far in the Wilds and featuring Ryder White. It’s free at the moment on Amazon, so if you’re not sure if this book is for you, it may be a good chance to check out one of the main characters before you buy.

Thanks so much to Edelweiss and Harlequin MIRA for providing me with a copy of this book.

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2 thoughts on “A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

  1. Brooke

    Having read Out of Africa recently, I’d love to see how this one compares – particularly with all the references. I’m also really taken with books set in Africa and want to read more of them. So many books, so little time!

  2. Pingback: The April Wrap-Up | Too Fond

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