Tuesday, December 24, 2013

City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 24, 2013

Set against the lush, exotic European colonial outposts of the 1920s, New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn delivers the captivating tale of one woman who embarks upon a journey to see the world—and ends up finding intrigue, danger and a love beyond all reason. 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 prewar 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 artifact 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...

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I have fond memories of the time I spent reading Deanna Raybourn's Silent in Grave, but I confess it has been more than three years since I've had opportunity to revisit her work and while I fully intend to track down the rest of the Lady Julia series, I can't say I was disappointed with her lastest standalone, City of Jasmine.

Much of my admiration is tied to Raybourn's protagonists, Eveangeline and Gabriel Starke. Her spunky confidence against his stoic devotion. His furtive sense of duty against her propensity to fly impetuously by the seat of her pants. I really enjoyed how their personalities played off one another and the character that contrast brought to their relationship. 

Another thing I liked about this piece is the setting. The exotic beauty and hidden dangers of Damascus and the Badiyat ash-Sham come to life under Raybourn's pen, giving the reader a real sense of the great Syrian desert, its people and its history. Far from a mere backdrop, Raybourn's depiction of the region is as multilayered and dynamic as the characters who inhabit it.

I wont stoop to rehashing the plot, but I will say the story strikes the perfect balance of adventure and allure. Steeped in intrigue and bursting with Raybourn's signature wit, City of Jasmine is a cleverly entertaining read that brilliantly recreates the romance of the late Imperial Age amid the thundering hooves, glinting swords and rolling dunes of the Middle East. 

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"Here I am, Gabriel—the girl you should have married but didn’t. I smoke cigars and I barnstorm and I wear red lipstick and I do as I damned well please."
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