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Review: A Spear of Summer Grass, by Deanna Raybourn


Pages: 384
Original date of publication:
My copy: 2013 (Harlequin MIRA)
Why I decided to read: Copy offered for review
How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, April 2013

Set in 1923, the novel focuses on Delilah Drummond, a daringly modern woman who is forced to take a “break” from society when a scandal threatens her reputation. She goes to Kenya and her stepfather’s estate, Fairlight, and quickly becomes acclimatized to the way of life there—meeting, as she does so, Ryder White, a hunter/tracker.

I’ve had a taste of British colonial life in Kenya—Frances Osborne’s The Bolter is about a famous colonist of the period, Idina Sackville, and the five husbands she “bolted” from in order to set up a new life in Kenya (where she continued her adventures, many of them sexual). So there are pretty obvious comparisons to be made between Idina Sackville and Delilah Drummond, as there are between Dennis Finch-Hatton (of Out of Africa fame) and Ryder White. Still, there’s enough about each of these fictional characters to make them interesting, and I was interested to see how Delilah would develop throughout the novel. At first she seems to be a pretty stereotypical fish-out-of-water character, but I was pleased to see how she falls in love not only with Ryder White but Africa, too, and grow as a person in the process—especially since she has her past with which to grapple. So what we are shown is more than just the surface; we are shown the reason for why Delilah behaves (at least in her pre-Africa life) the way she does. So the focus is on reflection—reflection on one’s life, even though it might seem to be small in the grand scheme of things.

What I thought was especially good were Deanna Raybourn’s descriptions of Africa—the love story in the book isn’t really the one between Delilah and Ryder as much as it is about Delilah’s growing love for Africa. So Africa itself becomes a character, with its own flaws and advantages. I’m not usually a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s stand-alone novels that don’t feature Lady Julia Grey, but I thought A Spear of Summer Grass was especially well done. You even get a nod to Walt Whitman; what’s not to love?



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