Title: City of Jasmine
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Published February 1st 2014 by MIRA
Pages: ebook 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC
Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction, romance
New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn delivers the captivating tale set against the lush, exotic European colonial outposts of the 1920s...
Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke never expected to see her husband, adventurer Gabriel Starke, ever again. They had been a golden couple, enjoying a whirlwind courtship amid the backdrop of a glittering social set in pre-war London until his sudden death with the sinking of the Lusitania. Five years later, beginning to embrace life again, Evie embarks upon a flight around the world, collecting fame and admirers along the way. In the midst of her triumphant tour, she is shocked to receive a mysterious — and recent — photograph of Gabriel, which brings her ambitious stunt to a screeching halt.
With her eccentric aunt Dove in tow, Evie tracks the source of the photo to the ancient City of Jasmine, Damascus. There she discovers that nothing is as it seems. Danger lurks at every turn, and at stake is a priceless relic, an artefact once lost to time and so valuable that criminals will stop at nothing to acquire it — even murder. Leaving the jewelled city behind, Evie sets off across the punishing sands of the desert to unearth the truth of Gabriel’s disappearance and retrieve a relic straight from the pages of history.
Along the way, Evie must come to terms with the deception that parted her from Gabriel and the passion that will change her destiny forever...
First of all, we highly recommend reading the prequel to this novel: Whisper of Jasmine. It details how Evie and Gabriel met, gives good insight into the beginning of their relationship, and explains their fondness for Peter Pan, which proves to be an underlying theme in the following novel. (It also includes appearances by some of the characters from Spear of Summer Grass, which readers of that book should enjoy. We certainly did!)
We started with the prequel and instantly fell in love with the characters. Raybourn's writing is such a wonderful blend of descriptive settings, mystery, humour and romance that you are immediately drawn in. City of Jasmine is set five years after the events of Whisper of Jasmine, and unlike in the prequel, Evie is no longer a naïve young girl. She has grown up to be quite the strong, capable woman who can stand up for herself and doesn't let anyone push her around. So when the photograph of her believed to be dead husband surfaces, she goes in search of her ‘Lost Boy’, looking for answers in order to finally put her past to rest. “It’s time to stop. Face down your ghosts. Exorcise them once and for all. Forgive them, forgive yourself and get on with the business of living.”
The story is set in Syria in 1920, and it’s very interesting to read about a place not often the subject of tales. Raybourn provides historical detail into a place rarely recalled and highlights the subtle yet serious undertones of warfare in Northern Africa as well as the fallout afterwards – issues not to be disregarded in this rollicking tale. Over the course of the novel, Evie and Gabriel are thrown into lots of adventures and come across a lot of suspicious and dangerous characters. The descriptions of nomadic life in the desert are fascinating and seeing the area through Evie's eyes brought the country to life.
Not only were there in-depth main characters but some wonderful secondary characters as well. Aunt Dove is a classic, “Is it very wrong that I want to grow up to be your Aunt Dove?” (don’t we all!) They added so much to the story and revealed the wonderful writer that Raybourn is, as even the smaller characters were not glossed over in any way. The many fun and feisty humorous moments in the story kept us giggling - “I do apologise Mr. Halliday. My husband always did have a filthy temper and death hasn’t improved it” - and provided delightful moments of levity.
We don't want to say too much more about this other than there is lots of action, humour - “Good God, if your stomach roars any louder they’ll be able to track us by the sound of it” - romance (the comedic chemistry and bantering between Evie and Gabriel will put such a smile on your face) and mystery. Raybourn's writing is truly something you need to pick up for yourself and read, because you are going to love it. Her work always transports you back in time, into another place, another world and another lifetime. On this occasion we were reminded of the 1940s movie ‘Casablanca’ – desert style, with a bit of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure.
This was another book we just couldn't put down! Deanna Raybourn is fast becoming one of our favourite historical authors. She keeps you eagerly turning the pages to the very end. Yet for all the fun, there is an admirable underlying tone: Don’t recall how the story ends? “Yes, you do. Peter takes Wendy home. And he tells her to leave a window open for him. Because he always comes back in the end.”