My rating: Liked the place, but the food was bad (2/5)
Night of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements that really worked for me, I had a really hard time finishing this book as it simply didn’t capture my attention.
Poppy Hammond is on the brink of marriage to a wealthy aristocratic; a comfortable life awaits her. But, Poppy wants more; she doesn’t feel like marriage is the right decision and she wants an adventure. So with the help of an unusually accommodating curate, Poppy jilts her groom. Determined to thank her rescuer, Sebastian Cantrip, Poppy heads off to London, only to discover that Sebastian has disappeared, and is really known as Sebastian Fox. What could have happened? After a little bit of digging, Poppy discovers that Sebastian traveled to Damascus. Convinced that Sebastian must be in trouble Poppy follows, finally embarking on the adventure that she always wanted.
Despite the fact that I’m not normally a fan of this author’s style, I wanted to read this one because the premise sounded amazing. I loved the idea of adventure in a foreign land, and after reading other reviews and quotes of the book, I was intrigued. And while I loved the descriptive setting and the humour, I personally, just didn’t enjoy reading about the main character, Poppy.
Poppy is impetuous and comes across as rather immature in her desire for an adventure. On the one hand, the reasoning behind Poppy’s flight from the altar is solid. She explains to Sebastian that she would be stifled as a future Viscount’s wife:
“I realised with Gerald, my life would always take second place. I would be his wife, and eventually Viscountess Madderley, and then I would die. In the meantime I would open fetes and have his children and perhaps hold a memorable dinner party or two, but what else? Nothing. I would have walked into that church today as Penelope Hammond and walked out as the Honourable Mrs. Gerald Madderley, and no one would have remembered me except as a footnote in the chronicles of the Madderley family.” (p. 13)
I think Poppy’s lack of individuality and need for recognition speak to the concerns of women of the time, as well as today, for that matter. I expected this need for action to manifest in a way that demonstrated that Poppy controlled her own destiny, instead she seemed to blunder into an adventure that I don’t feel actually changed her character. Further, Poppy continued to be identified as someone extraordinary by those around her, and while in some cases this was a subterfuge, this extraordinary quality was never really effectively conveyed. Why is Poppy so spectacular? It is because she’s pretty, intuitive? Beyond that I never really got much of a sense of what really made her so worthy of the attention that she received throughout the book. And because of this weak exploration, Poppy’s adventure never fully captured my attention.
What was really well developed in Night of a Thousand Stars was the luscious sense of place and the great humour.
I loved the exotic setting of Night of a Thousand Stars; this is a great example of armchair travel in fiction. Poppy’s experiences traveling and the way that this was described is stunning and evocative. Take Poppy’s first sighting of Damascus as an example:
Long rays of sunshine slanted over the city, gilding the stone and causing it to shimmer on the flat plain. Mount Hermon, newly carpeted in soft green on its lower flanks, rose to snowy heights in the distance, and I could smell the mingled scents of freshly turned earth and fruit blossoms and smoke on the air. (p. 101)
Whenever the setting is discussed, the author excels at presenting a sensual picture of the place rather than a visual simulation. This style of description brought a strong sense of place to the novel, and I feel that it is the strongest element to the novel and it is because of this that I would recommend it to fans of exotic locales; it is these readers that will appreciate this level of detail.
Second to the setting, I also liked the humour in the Night of a Thousand Stars. While I found the first third of the book to be hard to get into, when Poppy once again meets up with Sebastian I found that the humour really stood out. The one-liners between these two put a smile on my face:
We’d been riding for hours, and although I would have died rather than admit it to Sebastian, I was thoroughly exhausted. I gave a sigh of impatience and dropped my head to his back. He jerked, nearly throwing himself off the horse. His sudden lurch irritated her and she tossed her head, crossing her feet sideways.
“For God’s sake,” I muttered irritably, “What’s the matter with you? Anyone would think you were the Gothic heroine.” (p. 234)
Poppy is quite willing to dish it out to Sebastian and I found this interactions highly amusing. But, since there is a strong romantic current in the novel between Poppy and Sebastian, I was surprised that the witty banter didn’t move forward into something a little more reliant on character development. My impression of Poppy and Sebastian’s relationship is that they had the romantic tension, but not the depth of emotion that you expect in the romance genre. I realize that Night of a Thousand Stars is not a book that would be found in the romance section of the library, but since it does feature in the book, I feel that it could have been further developed.
My verdict on Night of a Thousand Stars? Fans of Deanna Raybourn will like this new book; it has her signature wit and quirky characters, and those will continue to appeal to her fans. While there were certain elements that I didn’t care for as a reader, I maintain that this is a book that will go over with many audiences.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.
For another author that I think has a similar style to Raybourn, try Ann Cleeland’s Daughter of the God-King. An Egyptian adventure with another heroine that is searching for more from a sheltered life. Throw in an intriguing spy and I think fans of Night of a Thousand Stars will be pleased.
If you would’ve liked more of a focus on the romance, I suggest Connie Brockway’s The Other Guy’s Bride. There’s plenty of adventure here, but the romance is much more developed than in Night of a Thousand Stars. For my full thoughts on The Other Guy’s Bride, see my raving review.
Lastly, I recommend Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily. Another armchair travel book, this time in India. I think fans of Night of a Thousand Stars will like one since the heroine, Penelope, is very similar to Poppy, an impetuous young woman who is used to getting her own way. Willig’s Pink Carnation series is always fun.