Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: A Spear of Summer Grass

A Spear of Summer Grass
By Deanna Raybourn
Published: April 30. 2013

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.

My review:

I am a big fan of Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey mysteries so I was excited to find out about her new book even though it is a standalone set in a different time period. While I enjoyed the setting, the book wasn't what I expected. I still liked A Spear of Summer Grass but the main character was a little difficult. 

Delilah arrives in Africa on the wings of scandal. She even receives a warning from the colonial government where word of her transgressions has preceded her. Delilah persists in her devil-may-care attitude and way of life but finds herself slowly affected by Africa. One of the first people she meets is Ryder White and sparks fly pretty quickly though she continues to keep him at arm's length and even has meaningless dalliances with someone else. Ryder in retrospect reminds me of Rhett Butler too. He is something of an original among their social set and is described several times in terms of his overwhelming masculinity. Their inevitable romance was sort of lackluster for me.

At first I thought I would hate Delilah. She comes across as so spoiled and cold and manipulative. In a way she reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara. Strangely as the story went on, I started to like her a little because of these glimpses of a deeper character who was capable of caring. Delilah never completely succeeded at winning me over but at least I didn't hate her in the end. Instead I found her to be a complex character with a couple of character traits I could admire. She makes some stupid decisions but she has also been judged unfairly by her world and she is often treated with condescension. I admired her determination to succeed and her courage. I also softened towards her a little as she revealed some of the pain she'd been through such as the loss of her first husband and what happened with the last one. Delilah grew on me and while she will never be a favorite character, it was interesting to read about her and the way she challenged the views of society. 

Overall I  thought this was a good book though I usually prefer a protagonist that is more likable or easier to relate to. I think the setting is what kept me reading the book during the times when Delilah annoyed me and in the end I am glad I finished it. It was a fascinating look at British colonial life in Kenya and some of the scandalous goings on as well as the challenges to living in such a harsh but beautiful place. There is also a murder to solve though it appears towards the end of the book. The writing style is also beautiful and really helped to create a sense of place. 

If you are a fan of the Lady Julia Grey series, keep in mind that this book is very different. If you enjoy historical fiction and don't mind difficult characters, then I hope you will give A Spear of Summer Grass a try. If you are uncertain, you can always see if it is available through your local library!

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher


  1. I've read that a lot of people find Delilah difficult. I wasn't sure about this book as I wasn't a big fan of the first Lady Julia Grey book and wasn't sure I liked this author's writing enough. I do like difficult heroines though-they're usually really stubborn and I admire that.

  2. I am hoping to read this one soon, but I am bummed to hear Delilah is tough to connect with. Hopefully the setting is what will keep me going as well. I don't think I've ever read a book that takes place in Kenya. I've never read anything by the author either, so I am excited to check out her writing style. I will have to look into the Julia Grey mysteries as well. Great review, Christina!

  3. I skimmed your review as I have this one up soon. I haven't read the Julia Grey mysteries, maybe that's a good thing?


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