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.
Deanna Raybourn forever has a fan in me with her fabulous Lady Julia Grey series, so I couldn't wait to read her take on 1920s East Africa in her latest stand-alone novel. The story follows scandalized American socialite Delilah Drummond as she flees scrutiny over the somewhat suspicious circumstances of her latest husband's death by journeying as far from the public eye as possible: her former stepfather's estate in Kenya. I was instantly captivated by Delilah, whose fresh, sardonic voice and pragmatic yet privileged nature make her an intriguing and compelling--though far from perfect--heroine. Having met rugged, rigid adventurer Ryder White in the prequel novella, Far in the Wilds, I was looking forward to the moment these two seemingly opposite yet surprisingly similar people from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences would meet.
The story world is vibrant and pulsing with life. Lush, exotic, and wild, Africa seduces Delilah from the moment she arrives, and mesmerizes the reader with its heady mix of danger and beauty. As Delilah navigates a strange and intoxicating new world amid an eclectic assortment of British expatriots, faced with the responsibilities of an over-burdened estate and an ever-present undercurrent of danger as tensions rise in Kenya's quest for independence, tribal rivalries and prejudices run rampant, and wild animals reign supreme, Ms. Raybourn's depiction of Kenya becomes a living, breathing diorama of a land that is as unforgiving and hostile as it is inspiring and magnificent. Delilah settles into her temporary new life and finds herself slowly swept up in the magic of Africa, and in the reality of Ryder, though her independent, guarded nature fights it tooth and nail. As she faces one trying situation after another, she is forced to confront her mistakes and the ghosts of her past. And when her newfound community is rocked by a shocking crime, she realizes the land and the people--and Ryder--need her just as much as she needs them. But does she have the courage to fight for what's right, to take a chance on an uncertain future, to pledge her heart and soul to someone else's welfare after a lifetime of self-centered existence?
For all that I adored Delilah and relished her journey from spoiled, self-involved good-time chaser to compassionate, purpose-driven Bibi, I couldn't help but feel like I'd been held a bit at arm's length, and if I hadn't already read Far in the Wilds, I don't know that I would have grasped the essence of Ryder as well. And I kind of felt like Delilah and Ryder got off easy after an entire novel of sexual tension and pushing and pulling and denying their feelings for each other by having an outside influence intervene in bringing them together, and I really would have liked to see more interaction between them before their arc came together so swiftly at the end.
But all's well that end's well, and overall the story satisfies as all of Ms. Raybourn's stories do. The vivid description and well-researched snapshot of the political and cultural climate of a different and fascinating historical setting combine with larger than life characters for a delicious read for fans of historical fiction.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
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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.