Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn


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.

MIRA Books  | April 30, 2013 | 384 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Deanna Raybourn's latest novel, A Spear of Summer Grass, is set predominantly in colonial Kenya during the 1920s.  After becoming embroiled in a scandal that just won't go away, rebellious Parisian socialite Delilah Drummond is forced by her family to flee to Africa until she is no longer the talk of the town.  Delilah accepts her exile with little protest, thinking that her African sojourn won't be a long one or, as she'll become the mistress of Fairlight, the Kenyan estate of one of her stepfathers, particularly difficult.  But Africa proves to be much more than Delilah bargained for, and she finds she must quickly adapt to an environment both beautiful and unforgiving if she hopes to leave it unscathed.  

Being a big fan of Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series, I eagerly anticipated the publication of this novel.   For the most part I wasn't disappointed.  Like Raybourn's previous novels, A Spear of Summer Grass is written in such a way as to fully engage the reader in the story.  I've always been impressed by Raybourn's prose and the prose in this novel proves to be no exception.  The setting, particularly the Fairlight estate and the savanna on which it sits, is vividly conveyed and proves to be the novel's greatest strength.  Despite lovely prose and a well-drawn setting, A Spear of Summer Grass didn't meet my expectations in one key area: the main characters.  I just didn't like Delilah or her love interest, Ryder White.  I thought Delilah was vain, selfish and cruel to those she felt were her social inferiors, especially her cousin Dora, who accompanies her to Kenya.  As a result, I had a very difficult time garnering any sympathy for Delilah and accepting that Ryder White would be attracted to her.   While Delilah does experience some personal growth over the course of the novel, it wasn't enough to change my opinion of her.  The small colonial society in which Delilah finds herself a part of when she arrives at Fairlight is made up of an diverse mix of eclectic individuals, and Raybourn does a good job of bringing them (and their lifestyles) to life.  Of all the characters in the novel the ones to which most drawn were Gideon, a Masai warrior and friend to Ryder, and Moses, Gideon's young brother.   I only wish they had been featured more prominently.    Although I prefer Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julie Grey novels to this one, the setting of A Spear of Summer Grass makes it a novel worth reading.

Recommended to fans of Deanna Raybourn's previous novels, as well as to readers interested in historical fiction set in Africa. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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