Jasmine Nights: A Novel
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Trade paperback, $16.00
a copy of this novel was provided by the publisher
Jasmine Nights has exotic settings, wartime romance, a beautiful singer moonlighting as a spy, and danger--what more could a reader ask for?
Julia Gregson's historical novel takes the reader from England, to Egypt to Turkey, following the path of Saba Turcan, a singer who is half-Turkish, and looking for a way to escape her narrow life in Cardiff, Wales. Her opportunity comes when she auditions for ENSA--the Entertainment National Service Association. At her audition is Dom Benson, a young fighter pilot who was instantly attracted to Saba when she performed at the hospital where he was being treated. Before their love affair gets off the ground, however, Saba is off to Cairo as part of a theatrical troupe sent to entertain soldiers in the desert.
Julia Gregson is adept at painting a picture of an exotic locale--or an intensely uncomfortable scene, like the desert where Saba has her first performance. Gregson is equally adept at painting her characters, major and minor. The members of the ENSA troupe are particularly winning--my favorite was Arleta, the aging trouper who befriends Saba. There are several sub-plots running through the novel: Dom's disappointed mother, who gave up a career as a musician, Saba's conflicted relationship with her traditional Turkish father. When Saba is recruited, secretly, to spy on a Turkish impresario and his associates, she is sent to Istanbul by the British Secret Service, endangering both her safety, and her romance with Dom.
Jasmine Nights is a satisfying historical novel that delivers romance, suspense, and a good story. Most readers will appreciate what Jasmine Nights delivers, while overlooking a couple of thinly constructed characters (Dom's father is something of a ghost) and a somewhat predictable resolution.
Historical fiction is a genre I dip into from time to time, but I definitely do not read as much of this genre as many other bloggers (some make a specialty of it). There is usually a romance involved, which is perfectly fine with me, but I don't generally like books that have only romance at their center. For historical fiction to be really satisfying, I find there has to be some really good writing, believeable and interesting characters, and some kind of compelling historical backdrop. Jasmine Nights has these essential ingredients; in fact, I liked this novel so much that I went on to read an earlier Gregson novel, East of the Sun, a gorgeous saga set in India--look for a review of East of the Sun next week.