In the novella Whisper of Jasmine, dashing explorer and archaeologist Gabriel Starke meets quiet dreamer Evangeline Merriweather at a New Year’s party thrown by their socialite friend Delilah Drummond. While Delilah most certainly intended to matchmake at the party, she had picked out completely different partners for both of them. Instead, Gabriel and Evie are instantly smitten with each other, and over the course of an evening, fall hard enough for each other that they decide to elope to Scotland. There are quite a few things that Gabriel isn’t at liberty to tell Evie, however.
Five years later, after the first World War has ended, Evie is a celebrated aviatrix, flying across the seven seas of antiquity with her elderly aunt as a companion. Her marriage to Gabriel only lasted a few months, most of them turbulent and fraught. Evie had just declared that she wanted a divorce when Gabriel was lost, believed drowned when the ocean liner Lusitania went down.Then Evie receives an anonymous letter, featuring a clearly current photograph of Gabriel, at an archaeological dig in the desert outside Damascus. She won’t find peace until she discovers what happened to her husband and why he faked his death.
Gabriel had very good reasons to drive his wife away and fake his death. He also has good reasons to attend an archaeological dig in disguise, and sent Evie the photograph well aware that she wouldn’t be able to stay away. He needs her help to get a priceless relic out of the country. He also hopes that he may be able to set the record straight about their relationship, but barely dares to hope he’ll have a chance to earn Evie’s forgiveness or a second chance at happiness with her.
City of Jasmine and its prequel novella were written before Night of a Thousand Stars, which I read first, but the books are absolutely connected. For new readers, I would recommend reading this one first, as there are some spoilers for this book in Night of a Thousand Stars when Gabriel appears in a cameo. He and Sebastian were part of the same shadowy government organisation during the war and his secret government responsibilities were the reason Gabriel shouldn’t have married Evie in the first place and had to try his best to drive her away by acting like a complete bastard, before faking his own death. Five years later, his loyalty to merry old England and the Vespiary has pretty much evaporated. He wants to reconcile with his wife and tell her the truth (although of course he doesn’t actually do that – that would have been far too sensible and made this a very different book).
Like the other 1920s set Raybourn book, this novel also features adventures in the desert, ancient archaeological treasure hunts, dastardly villains, brave Bedouin warriors, a taciturn and manly hero, a brave and unconventional heroine. There are great supporting characters, like Evie’s eccentric aunt Dove and her mechanic, Wally, who also happens to be the heir to the Viscount Walters, hiding his homosexuality by flirting with Evie every chance he gets. This book also goes on my growing list of romances where the heroine has shot the hero at some point over the course of the story (I’ve come to find that it’s a great story trope, as all the books on the list are books I’m very fond of). I still liked Poppy and Sebastian’s book more, probably because they are falling in love for the first time, while Gabriel and Evie have a history, and there is so much pain, hurt, deception and miscommunication here before they can actually be honest with one another and face the future together. These books are so much fun, though, and I’m determined to also read the last of Raybourn’s 1920s set novels, as well as very much looking forward to her new book, once again featuring a Victorian heroine, coming out in September.
Crossposted on my blog.