A Spear of Summer Grass
“Because if we’re on the road to hell, we’re going to dance the whole damn way and give them something to talk about when we’re gone.” A Spear of Summer Grass, 334
A Spear of Summer Grass is Deanna Raybourn’s latest masterpiece. Once again, she crafts a perfect opening line – opening paragraph, truly – “Don’t believe the stories you have heard about me.” And with that single sentence, a reader wants to know what, exactly, those stories are. It is the ultimate invitation to witness a bit of chic wickedness, clothed in scarlet, circled in smoke. If Delilah Drummond offers you a drink (gin and tonic, most likely), you would gladly take it. If she levels a gun at you, you would do well to run.
Imagine a New Orleans-born Dorothy Parker, given to Paris society. Picture her in 1923, with a bob sleek enough to cut glass – and a tongue sharp enough to scar a heart. Delilah is a wild one, a woman with a backbone who does exactly what – and whom – she pleases, with no regard for society’s demands. She is, after all, “nobody’s best example” (177). However, she can handle a gun as deftly as any man, which comes in handy when, after one too many scandals, the it-girl is banished to Africa until the media circus moves on.
There she arrives, with her plain and sullen cousin Dora, to an expected world rife with expected and unexpected predators. Just as she’s stepping off the train, Delilah meets a man as formidable as Rochester and Lord Byron (mad, bad, and dangerous to know), but as wild as lions he so expertly hunts. Ryder is not one to suffer fools, and his temper is only guided by a strong sense of justice – an oddly founded morality that serves him well. Thrown together by circumstance, the two form a tenuous relationship, one predicated not strictly on a game of cat-and-mouse – but of two equal people who worship their own walls. Broken and troubled, but fierce, both possess scars – seen and unseen. Their relationship is shaded by their own difficult, tumultuous pasts – and yet, there is a mutual respect that falls between them, breathtaking as any African sunset.
Delilah takes up residence at a house belonging to her ex-stepfather, Nigel. Fairlight is full of potential, but has fallen into disrepair. Delilah and her cousin begin to set things to right, but the resistance they are met with, at turns, is palpable. Situated amid a gaggle of displaced acquaintances, including an artist and dalliance of Delilah’s (Kit), Delilah comes into her own and starts letting people in, whether or not she realizes it. Troubling as any lion, Kenya is rampant with change and a shifting political landscape, as the colony’s British rule is uncertain. Delilah quickly learns that nothing is exactly as it seems, and she must navigate its numbered dangers. True to her tenacious persona, she takes no quarter from anyone, man or beast, while waiting out her sentence.
But a landscape is often a living thing, as much a character as any person. Delilah finds herself in a love affair with Kenya and its people – but is it enough to keep her there? And, for that matter, is Ryder? A charming and dangerous man, when he murmurs, “Sin with me,” it is seduction at its best. While Delilah may be his match, she is no stranger to art of manipulation – a spider to any willing fly. Yet, as Ryder points out, some scars are visible – while others are easily hidden, like a woman who has “been holding hands with ghosts for too long” (348). Delilah might be the dazzling party girl, with a bright red mouth, but she is “dancing on broken glass” (231). What makes Delilah’s forgivable – and even likeable – is that she’s layered. She’s what is easily seen by prying eyes and flashbulbs. And yet, she is also a whole world of history that’s never truly been witnessed. Her walls are built with care and reason, perhaps with less of an eye toward keeping people out – and more as a means of self-protection.
Deanna Raybourn’s deft hand crafted a novel that is full of sharp wit, vibrant characters, and exceptional plot twists. (No, I’m not giving them away. But I will say this: Rosebud is a sled. And Han shot first.) Nestled within a dangerously beautiful country, she tackles the idea of identity, belonging, and owning who you are – and facing who you could be. This is very much a novel about finding yourself in the last place you expect. It is about burning everything to the ground and starting again, because sometimes, ashes make the most fertile soil. It may look like a wreck and a ruin at first, but every disaster is an opportunity – as Delilah certainly discovers. At one point, she muses, “You had to love someone completely to be willing to destroy them” (230). The reverse is also true: you must love someone completely to let them destroy you. But that is, truly, the only way we let anyone in, by tearing the walls down. What better place to tear those walls down than on an adventure?
It should be noted that I was lucky enough to be given an ARC of A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna. I was not otherwise compensated or bribed in any manner, and this review was entirely my own idea. I do believe that’s enough disclaimer, before I simply tell you: you want to read this book. It is beautiful and wicked, with enough verbal calisthenics and divinely smeared red lipstick to demand that you read quicker than you thought possible. This is a book that will keep you up until the wee hours of the night, reading beneath the sheets with a flashlight. And truly, who wouldn’t want to take Ryder to bed? Or Delilah for that matter?
A Spear of Summer Grass is available April 30. Pre-order and ordering information can be found HERE.