A Spear of Summer Grass | Deanna Raybourne

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne is a mainstream/romance set in 1920’s africa.

Paris, 1923 

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst 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 savannah 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.

This can be a difficult novel.

It’s utterly enjoyable in every way. Everything is spot on – from the descriptions, to the characterisation, to the sexual tension. But Raybourne doesn’t shy away from the attitudes of the era, and that might well make a modern reader uncomfortable.

It’s kudos to her that she doesn’t, really. 1920’s Africa was full of ‘benevolent’ racists who believed you needed to ‘civilise’ the natives because, poor dears, they were just too backward and stupid to do it themselves. The colonists were helping, or at least, so they believed. It can be difficult to read a book full of this, where even our heroine has some of these attitudes. Obviously, as she is our main character, she is more sympathetic than most and many of the other colonists are just people who believe that the native Africans are less than human, but she is still a woman of her era.

I’ve never liked politically-correct history, as it’s nonsense, but that doesn’t mean that the casual, parental, borderline-condesenscion is easy to read.

Raybourne makes another brave choice in making Delilah somewhat unlikeable, especially at the beginning of the novel. She seems selfish, self-absorbed and inconsiderate. She sleeps with married men and breaks hearts left right and centre. She’s fascinating and believable, but you wouldn’t want her as a friend. That’s fine by me – I’ve never been one of those people who needs to like a main character to enjoy reading about them. If I did, I’d never have read Lolita. Besides, her slow, gradual improvement and character development is one of the best things about this book.

Apart from the writing. My God. Look, I love Raybourne’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries, but her writing there wasn’t especially strong. She had some moments of brilliance, but they were just that, moments. I can safely say she’s come into her own here. The descriptions of Africa were breathtaking.

All in all I was very impressed. The book was very good, just… read the bits about race critically.

4 out of 5.

Provided free by Harlequin through Netgalley.

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