This book is being released today, FINALLY. Edited to add: NetGalley lists the book as being published April 23. The author informs me that there’s still a week to go. Sorry for the confusion.
I was delighted to see this book available on NetGalley, but it has been killing me not to talk about it for several weeks. I have recommended it to others who I knew had access to early copies, but it’s definitely the downside of advance copies that one can’t squee about a book as soon as one finishes it.
Deanna Raybourn is well-known as the author of the Lady Julia Grey historical mystery series, of which I have read and enjoyed several. This book, however, is a separate entity, and that isn’t at all a bad thing. A Spear of Summer Grass is a special reading experience, one of those wonderful books that makes me wish there was more and yet is complete because it ISN’T part of an ongoing series. (There is a prequel novella about the main male character, which I haven’t read.)
Set mostly in colonial Africa, with just a few set-up pages in Europe first, the book captures the tensions of the place and time — beautiful wild scenery that holds real danger, peopled by a powerful ruling minority and a subjugated majority with a different, largely unacknowledged power. I really felt pulled into the world, seeing it through the first person narrator as she encountered it and it changed her.
Delilah is sent to Africa as a means of social exile, because of a scandal involving her late husband. She’s a sophisticated 1920s party girl, and she is completely unprepared for what she finds waiting for her. The native people who work on the deteriorating family plantation to which she’s been banished are strange, even alien, but she finds herself drawn to befriend and protect them from the more familiar British aristocrats and merchants who control the colony. Her sometime ally is Ryder White, a hunting guide for wealthy residents and visitor. Ryder moves between the beauty of the natural Africa and the jaded social and political circles of the colony; he shows Delilah the Africa, both place and people, that most colonials ignore, fear or try to control.
The romance of Delilah and Ryder is only part of the attraction of this book. There are also mystery, both natural and of the plot variety, vivid secondary characters, and thoughtful consideration of complex social issues. The touches of humor are bittersweet most of the book, since they are colored at first by Delilah’s anger about being sent away and later by the distaste with which she comes to view most of her peers. There are moments of action and heart-pounding danger, but also sections that are almost lyrical, and for me the book was a very emotional reading experience.