REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s CITY OF JASMINE, Is Where “I Missed You”

City of JasmineMiss Bates knew Deanna Raybourn in her incarnation as the creator of the Lady Julia Grey mystery series, one Miss Bates read and enjoyed. But mystery novels, in comparison to romance novels, always make Miss B. antsy. Truth be told, she was more fascinated by the Lady Julia/Nicholas Brisbane courtship and coupling than she ever was by the whodunits. She can’t ever recall the dominant mystery thread that is the core of any of the Lady Julia novels. What she does remember, with reader pleasure/pain, are the antagonistic, oblique attraction and temperaments of the leads, the curiosity to know more and more of their intimate encounters and emotional vulnerabilities. Raybourn is so so good at withholding from the reader.  This attracted and repelled Miss Bates, had her anticipate and yet avoid the latest release. In her latest novel, City Of Jasmine, it appears that Raybourn loosened those maddening elements and allowed her hero and heroine to eke out a little more of themselves and their relationship to the reader.  In this sense, and coupled with Raybourn’s lovely writing and the strong, amiable voice of her heroine-narrator, City Of Jasmine was a better, more satisfying read for Miss Bates. It was also a tighter narrative than the Julia Grey mysteries: it didn’t get as bogged down in details and developped mystery elements with greater and more engaging alacrity. She would venture to suggest that if you like your mysteries with their cross-hairs on the relationship rather than the body, you’re going to relish this latest from Raybourn. It captured Miss Bates … though she still experienced some frustration with it.

[Please note that the novel’s plot is such that the review implicates a few spoilers. Read on with that in mind, please.] City Of Jasmine pulled Miss Bates in at the start. What a great heroine Raybourn has given us in Evangeline Merryweather Starke, explorer and aviatrix, embarking on a tour of the “seven seas of antiquity” with the irrepressible Lady Lavinia Finch-Pomeroy, “Aunt Dove” (indeed, Aunt Dove was the best kind of spinster character) on her Sopwith biplane, the Jolly Roger. Evie is a minor celebrity, a lady flier at a time when they were numbered on one hand, but the truth of it is that she’s keeping bill-collectors at bay. She’s a widow, had been married to the aristocratic and wealthy Gabriel Starke, explorer, mountaineer, and archaeologist, who perished in the Lusitania. When Evie receives an anonymously-delivered photo of Gabriel, she knows she must explore its possible implications. Her feelings for him are fraught with the memory of their final days together, in China, arguing, misunderstanding, Gabriel going cold and aloof and she, leaving and resolved to divorce. Unresolved feelings, residual grief, and emotional reticence, are the fruits of Evie’s marriage. Before completing her seven seas tour, she will go to the “city of jasmine,” Damascus, to put Gabriel to rest one way or another.

[POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD] It doesn’t take her long to see through his disguise. But that leaves her with many questions and a lot of hurt and anger. The aftermath of her discovery and time with Gabriel in the desert are all intrigue and adventure, but forgiveness and love as well. [SPOILER AT AN END]

Evie’s voice was attractive to Miss Bates.  She loved her humour and sense of adventure, her care for Aunt Dove, and her self-deprecation. The opening line says it all: “The desert is a lonely place to begin with. And there’s nothing lonelier than being with someone you loved who stopped loving you first. It ended in the desert, the fabled rocky reaches of the Badiyat ash-Sham, with a man I had already buried once. But it began in Rome, as all adventures should, and it started with a scolding.” Throughout the narrative, we hear Evie’s sadness, but also her humour and ability to “carry on.” Aunt Dove, in turn, is a wonderful secondary character: humorous, eccentric and, in the end, wise, a true companion to Evie in her darkest, most difficult moments. The opening of City of Jasmine brought Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt to mind (though Aunt Dove’s role diminishes as Evie confronts desert revelations).

Miss Bates thought the descriptions of Damascus another of the novel’s strengths: “Rolling through the orchards of olive and lemon, pomegranate and orange, we saw Damascus standing on the plain, a gleaming, jewelled city of white in a lush green setting … over it all hung the perfume of flowers that spilled from private courtyards and public gardens … the city of jasmine, the air thick with the fragrance of crushed blossoms.” In this lovely, brief description, you have a hint of Raybourn’s ability to create atmosphere and paint pictures. She does no less with the desert … where she has the added delicious tension and volatility of fraught relationships and interactions. The goings-on are reminiscent of an Elizabeth Peters’ novel, but Raybourn’s awareness and knowledge of the history and politics of the time align themselves with the Bedouin and the Arab push for autonomy and prove much more interesting.

What were Miss Bates’ frustrations with City of Jasmine? Too many villainous secondary characters and an excess of plot threads.  A wonderful opening gave way to near-farcical centre: one wherein we find a frenetic series of events involving bad guys, good guys, bad guys who turn out all right and vice versa, political intrigue, and Indiana-Jones-like sequences of danger, mayhem, and near-death. In the midst of this a hero and heroine relationship, especially on the part of the evasive, cool hero, that unfolds and reveals its depth and desire. 

[SPOILER AHEAD] Gabriel Starke’s volatility and peevishness with the adorable Evangeline did not endear him, or entrench his hero-status, to Miss Bates. The cross-class nature of Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane’s relationship made Nicholas’s difficult character an equalizer to Julia’s ease and wealth. Gabriel, on the other hand, just comes across as a bit of an ass. All the more reason, when he finally rips his heart out and hands it to Evangeline, to redeem the romance thread. [SPOILER AT AN END]

In Raybourn’s City Of Jasmine, Miss Bates excavated evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Deanna Raybourn’s City Of Jasmine is published by Harlequin (Mira) and has been available in your preferred format at the usual vendors since February 25th.

Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.

 

 

13 thoughts on “REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s CITY OF JASMINE, Is Where “I Missed You”

  1. I have this in my TBR. I liked the early Nicholas & Julia books so wanted to try the author again. Also as a teen I read Mary Stewart’s ‘The Gabriel Hounds’ which for a some strange value of weirdness was a good enough reason to buy the ‘City of Jasmine’ reviews unseen.

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    • Miss Bates liked this better than the Nicholas and Julia books, which she found went on too long. She’d love to hear your thoughts once you’re done. She was tickled pink by your comment regarding the Mary Stewart book. There’s nothing better than free association when buying books!

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  2. We share many of the same issues with Julia and Nicholas, though I still think their romance in the first couple of books was central and smoldering enough to really work well for me. Like you, I grew tired of their antagonism as the series went on. I haven’t got these newer Raybourn’s in my TBR because the setting’s less appealing to me, and I don’t really know why. This one sounds very nice, though, and you are persuasive as always!

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    • Yes, Miss Bates really liked the 2nd book of the Lady Julia series, largely because of the relationship with Nicholas (for some peculiar reason, she hasn’t read the first). By the time she arrived at the “Darjeeling” book, she DNF-ed it.

      Miss Bates thinks you’ll like this one: it’s looser than the Lady Julia novels, more fun … and the heroine is quite endearing (Aunt Dove is the BEST); the hero says some pretty romantic stuff too! I loved the setting: the history is interesting and Raybourn, which Miss B. didn’t mention in her review, also builds Islam into that picture-painting in a most eloquent way.

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  3. I made it all the way through to the end of the Lady Julia series (at least, I’m assuming ‘The Dark Enquiry’ is the end…) and enjoyed them less and less as the series went on. I find I much prefer Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books (“And Only to Deceive” is the first).

    I enjoyed Raybourn’s “A Spear of Summer Grass”–post-WWI Kenya setting. Though I was very, very slow to warm up to the heroine, I liked the hero just fine. I am not sure I bought the romance, but the mystery was nice and twisty.

    Like merriank above, I have fond memories of Stewart’s ‘Gabriel Hounds’ (though it has a more modern setting than ‘City of Jasmine’). I remember reading it when it first came out. Elizabeth Peter’s ‘Dead Sea Cipher’ (pub 1970 and set in the late 1960’s) is also great fun. All three of these books could be classified as historical fiction now, as the political landscape has changed so greatly).

    Right now I am waiting, waiting, waiting for the library to notify me that the copy I have reserved is in. Thank you for the thoughtful review. I am looking forward (even more) to reading the book.

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    • It’s so lovely to hear from you again! Miss Bates so greatly appreciates the breadth of your reading: it always sends her scrambling to her little black book of titles to be found, read, etc. Thank you for the mentions of Stewart and Peters. Miss B. enjoyed the first two Alexander “Lady Emily” books, but drifted away from the series. Just lethargy, not dislike; but like you, abandoned Nicholas/Julia out of impatience with their animosity. Miss B. has also enjoyed Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, don’t know if you’ve given those a try? In contemporaries, it’s Julia Spencer-Fleming Russ/Clare all the way; also, Karen White’s Charleston-set “Tradd Street” series.

      Miss B. hopes you get “the call” from your library very soon: this is a fun read and the romance is quite endearing. Enjoy! 🙂

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      • Miss Bates, you are too kind.
        re: Julia Spencer-Fleming–of course i love her books, even though she just about broke my heart in the most recent book with the twist in the romance between the two young cops. Oh, I wept buckets!
        re: Willig’s Pink Carnation series. Alas, I just couldn’t get interested. I will put it all to having devoured Baroness Orczy’s entire Pimpernel series (there’s at least 8 or 9 books featuring the SP and the members of his merry band) in her formative years!
        re: White’s Tradd Street series. I loved the stories and setting, while heartily disliking both the hero and heroine. I gave up halfway through the third book. I have read several other of White’s stand alones; I especially liked “On Folly Beach”. I am very familiar with the Carolina coastal area (North and South) where she sets her books, so reading her books is like taking a mini-vacation.

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        • Oh no, buckets of weeping await Miss B. At present, she still has All Mortal Flesh and I Shall Not Want to read. But she loves them too much to ever give up the series. These are favourite lazy summer reads so that she can “endure” the weeps. 😉

          It’s too bad about the Pink Carnation series: Miss B. too grew tired of it after Volume 10: The Orchid Affair, so she stuck it out till nearly the end.

          Oh Miss B. does like the Tradd St. series, but agrees with you about hero and heroine. Atmosphere and setting are great. She’s very glad to hear about the On Folly Beach novel because she gave it to a friend for Christmas and the buddy loved it. Maybe it’s time to borrow it!

          Hope all your reading is pleasurable and Happy Spring!

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  4. I loved the Nicholas & Julia books, although I only read the first three before getting distracted, and I agree that the relationships were definitely my focus. I was always grateful however that the mysteries were never the kind where I was frustrated by the stupidity of the crime-solvers in not seeing the obvious. That’s a pet peeve, and I don’t recall ever feeling it while reading the Raybourn books.

    I think I have the first three books in the Pink Carnation series on my shelves, because I kept finding them on sale at Borders (yes, THAT long ago). But I was never able to get sucked in to the first one. I shall try again, since you say you enjoyed them. Elizabeth Peters on the other hand is a perennial favorite. Whenever I need a comfort read, I will sit down and glom a giant chunk of the Peabody books in one go. Then I have to scrub my brain afterward, because everything I write for weeks will sound just like Amelia Peabody narrating my contemporary romance. This is even more peculiar if I’m working on a m/m project. 🙂

    I like my mysteries both with and without romance. The development of the relationship between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in Laurie R. King’s terrific series was one of my absolute favorites, as minimally romantic as they are. Those two purely intellectual, giant brains giving in to an emotional connection, beyond that of fond teacher/loyal student, was lovely to read.

    Thanks again for a terrific review!

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    • You’re most welcome!

      It’s funny what you’ve said here about the “Pink Carnation” series: in retrospect, Miss Bates would say that the first of the series (though she was enthralled with its novelty-hybrid quality) is not the strongest. She was keen on reading it at the time because … well … its echo of Byatt’s Possession, a marvelous novel with two narrative strands, contemporary and historical. The concept continues, of course, in the rest of the series, but there are some that stand out more than others: The Seduction Of the Crimson Rose with its echoes of Heyer’s These Old Shades hero; The Temptation of the Night Jasmine with its ingenue, bookish heroine; and, the Christmas novella, The Mischief of the Mistletoe with its hilariously endearing dufus hero, Turnip Fitzhugh.

      Miss Bates read many an Amelia Peabody when she used to vacation in Greece in the summmer: she can envision her little shelf with all the Peters’ mysteries lined up, yellowing now. It was so long ago, she can’t remember much of them, except the pleasure of their wit and atmosphere.

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      • POSSESSION is my favorite book. Ever. Followed closely by Graham Swift’s Waterland, although that book lacks her display of genius in the creation of all of that amazing poetry.

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        • Ditto for Miss Bates on Possession. It’s just so perfect: so erudite and brilliant and so entertaining, a mystery, a historical romance, a tragedy, a comedy … and yet it’s not a hodge-podge, but perfectly structured and sustained. And a feminist tract, but clever and tongue-in-cheek. Miss Bates also LOVED LOVED LOVED one of her early novels: The Virgin In the Garden, she shows her Lawrencian influence there, but it’s a wonderful read. And a heroine named Frederica, many an Elizabeth allusion, love and sex and motherhood.

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