Author: Deanna Raybourn
Provided Synopsis: 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…
Review: After five years of silence and a funeral that should have put him to rest, Evangeline Starke is shocked to receive by post a picture of her late-husband in the desert of Damascus. Gabriel should have met a watery grave with the sinking of the Lusitania; Gabriel should no longer be such a shadow over her life when she had every intention of divorcing him once it became clear their impetuous marriage was a disaster. But, because she has not been able to come to terms with the past nor is she able to resist the need to know answers, Evie sets off to Damascus to discover what has become of her husband. The search takes her beyond the confines of the City of Jasmine, however, and into the Badiyat ash-Sham (the Syrian desert), where all she thought she knew is challenged and an adventure is undertook to secure an artifact Gabriel took pains to give to her.
Despite its prominence as a plot point, I actually found the journey to retrieve the historic relic to be the least impressive aspect of this story. Things became very convoluted with so many different parties on the hunt and loyalties constantly dubious. It came to the point where I wished everyone would just give up on The Cross and instead focus on the political struggles of the Arabs against the French or English governments that wish to control the region. Set not long after the time of Lawrence of Arabia’s term in the desert, the history on the politics of the Middle East was purely fascinating to read.
Like she always does, Deanna Raybourn has created such a distinct time and place for her characters to inhabit. She has a way with words to beautifully paint Damascus, an archaeological dig site, or most impressively, the endless sea of sand that comprises the beautiful and harsh realities of the desert. Her research into the locale and the Bedouin people was perfect; I could have happily stayed among these characters to learn more of their way of life and the causes they would fight for. Characters come alive when a setting is powerfully realized, and this was definitely the case for Evie, Gabriel, and the memorable cast of supporting characters.
If you can ignore the cover (which I really don’t think does the story inside justice) then I would recommend this book for those interested in the beginning of the modern-day struggle in the Middle East and those who seek a desert landscape to escape to. I might also suggest ignoring some of the characters, since the jury is still out for me on whether or not I liked Gabriel, and focus in on the things I have said I enjoyed above.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The expected publication date is February 25, 2014.