Sensing he might be in trouble – which feels like an excuse – she finds a way to pursue him there, taking a convenient position as secretary to an elderly army colonel who’s traveling to Damascus to write his memoirs. Her formidable lady’s maid, Masterman, worries (rightly) about her safety and secretly arranges to follow her trail.
Throughout this entertaining romantic adventure, almost no one is who they seem, and Raybourn keeps us guessing about who they really are. Damascus in 1920 is an ancient, multicultural city that sits on the brink of revolution against the French ruling class. The cuisine is scrumptious and the exotic scent of jasmine pervasive, and Poppy is nearly seduced by it all. She also grows curious about two men who seek out her company: Hugh, her employer’s sexy valet, and the handsome Armand, Comte de Courtempierre, who has a slightly smarmy air to him.
As Poppy gets progressively closer to discovering Sebastian’s whereabouts, the danger level increases. She also learns more about the plight of aviatrix Evangeline Starke, the protagonist of Raybourn’s previous novel, City of Jasmine, who was believed to have gone missing in the desert. The way it’s written, those who haven’t read the earlier book should be curious about it rather than lost.
Although Poppy’s instincts are generally good, and her dialogue is sharp and clever, her spontaneity sometimes lets her down. Granted, she’s led a comparatively sheltered life, but Sebastian in particular is very tolerant of her impetuous nature. The enigmatic Masterman steals the show from her on more than one occasion; she's a fabulous character who deserves a book of her own.
While imperfect in several respects – the ending in particular is over the top – Night of a Thousand Stars offers witty escapism to a fascinating setting not often seen in fiction.
Night of a Thousand Stars was published this month by Harlequin MIRA (368pp, $14.95 pb / $10.99 ebook). Thanks to the publisher for granting me NetGalley access. This review forms part of a blog tour via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.