A Spear of Summer Grass
By: Deanna Raybourn
Format/Source: Paperback courtesy of the author as part of the Spear of Summer Grass Book Tour
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.
I first heard of this novel on GoodReads but I’ve never read any of the author’s works (though I recently found out that I added the first of her Julia Gray series on GoodReads in the past). I’m excited to take part in this blog tour hosted by France Book Tours and have the chance to read and review this novel. Be sure to check out the end of this post where you can enter to win a paperback copy of this novel (US/Canada only)!
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
Suffice to say I really enjoyed reading this novel. Africa really comes to life in the pages: it’s unique and exotic, dangerous and untouched (for the large part) by human infastructure but also beautiful and mysterious. It was interesting to look at colonial life through Delilah’s story, how the colonials interact with the African communities living in Kenya but also how those different communities interact with each other. The nature of the British colonial presence in Kenya was also explored briefly through some of the characters; it was especially interesting to see how multicultural the British colony was–aside from the white and African communities, there are also a number of Indians who settled int he region. Naturally this representation of colonial life includes all of the racial components and attitudes that were prevalent at the time.
The 1920s culture was also very prevalent in this novel, the life of the fast and easy, the drinks and parties and social attitudes. Delilah very much embodies this culture to the point of scandal, bringing it along when she is banished to Kenya. The contrasts between that and the realities living in colonial Kenya and the frontiers of Africa couldn’t be more different, which was very interesting.
In the case of Delilah’s character, this party lifestyle also fuels the more stubborn and upfront aspects of her character. It could make her unlikeable if not for the surprising depth that the character has. There’s a lot more to Delilah behind her flirtatious and vivacious personality: a sad past, the hurt, the type of family life she had growing up, her experiences during the First World War. Despite of her extreme stubbornness and, at times, carelessness, she is a very strong and able character who can be very caring towards other people.
Ryder was an intriguing character as well. The reader shares Delilah’s confusion about his character. There’s this facade of bravado he gives off (though well-deserved as he very much understands the African landscape and how to survive) but underneath there’s this solidness of character and an underlying sadness. It’s interesting to learn that both he and Delilah are a lot more alike than it seems.
I wish there was a bit more of a build-up to their relationship beyond the amusing flirting/tit-for-tat that went on at the start but I thought it was natural how their relationship developed (given the type of personalities they had). It could’ve been drawn out/built up a bit more at the end but given everything that happened in the last third of the novel, it made sense to wrap it up at the pace that it did.
The secondary characters were terrific, just as well-rounded and nuanced with their own motivations and back stories.
A Spear of Summer Grass was wonderful novel, I honestly couldn’t put it down for long periods of time after I started reading it because I wanted to know what was going to happen next for Delilah and how her time in Kenya was going to play out. I highly recommend this novel if you’re into historical fiction, romance and novels set in the 1920s.
ABOUT DEANNA RAYBOURN
As a sixth-generation native Texan, I grew up in San Antonio, where I met my college sweetheart. I married him on graduation day and went on to teach high school English and history. During summer vacation when I was twenty-three, I wrote my first novel. After three years as a teacher, I left education to have a baby and pursue writing full-time.
Fourteen years and many, many rejections after my first novel, I signed two three-book deals with MIRA Books.
“Sex, lies and awesome clothing descriptions” is how one reader described my debut novel, Silent in the Grave, published in 2007. The first in the Silent series, the book follows Lady Julia Grey as she investigates the mysterious death of her husband with the help of the enigmatic private enquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane. From the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to a Gypsy camp on Hampstead Heath, Silent in the Grave was my love letter to Victorian London.
The series continues with the second book, Silent in the Sanctuary (2008), a classic English country house murder mystery with a few twists and turns for Brisbane and Lady Julia along the way, while the third book, Silent on the Moor (2009), is set in a grim manor house on the Yorkshire moors. My favorite part of writing Moor was getting to spend time in Yorkshire, one of the most wildly beautiful places I have ever been.
March 2010 saw a departure from the series with the release of The Dead Travel Fast, a mid-Victorian Gothic thriller that chronicles the adventures of novelist Theodora Lestrange as she leaves the safety and security of her Edinburgh home for the dark woods and haunted castles of Transylvania. I returned to Lady Julia and her companions with Dark Road to Darjeeling (October 2010), this time delving into my most exotic setting yet in the foothills of the Himalayas. The fifth series book, New York Times bestseller The Dark Enquiry (July 2011) saw Lady Julia back in her beloved London again, while a digital holiday novella, Silent Night (November 2012) highlighted the March family festivities at Bellmont Abbey.
But 2013 introduces a new setting to my work—1920s British East Africa. In A Spear of Summer Grass (May 2013), disgraced flapper Delilah Drummond is sent to Africa to weather the storm of her latest scandal. There she meets Ryder White, a local legend for more reasons than one—and the perfect man to teach her about the continent he loves. Ryder was introduced to readers in the digital prequel novella Far in the Wilds (March 2013).
I am thrilled that 2014 will see another 1920s release, City of Jasmine (May 2014), and I am hard at work on my next project in my little pink study in Virginia with a doodle draped over my feet as I write.
You can find me blogging a few days a week at http://deannaraybourn.com/blog/. Be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter, check out my contests and book trailer videos, and find me on Twitter and Facebook
Now that you’ve read my review of the novel, here’s the giveaway for a paperback copy! Please fill out the following Rafflecopter below to enter; US/Canada only. Contest closes on July 21st at 11:59 PM EST and a winner will be drawn and contacted the following day. If you have any questions (or if there’s an issue with the Rafflecopter), feel free to comment below or email me.