Saba Tarcan is a half-Turkish girl living in Wales during World War Two who dreams of using her voice to escape her mundane surroundings. She auditions for ENSA and is delighted to be offered the chance to travel to the Middle East and be a part of performances to boost troop morale in the desert, even though her father threatens to disown her. Saba plunges in head first, eager to soak up all the experiences life has to offer her, including a romance with injured fighter pilot Dom. When she is approached by the secret service for a mission she is uniquely qualified for, Saba is seduced by the idea of doing something exciting and important, oblivious to the danger the offer also entails. But life during war is not a fairy tale, and Saba and Dom are both in for some hard lessons.
Jasmine Nights is all about the naivety of youth. Saba and Dom both think they are untouchable, that nothing will happen to them, that hardships and suffering are for others but never for themselves. They both throw themselves willingly into dangerous situations, thinking of the glamour and adventure rather than the consequences. Saba is entranced by the glitter and shine of wartime Egypt, the praise she receives for her voice, the beautiful dresses and the chance to finally live her dream. She ignores warnings given by everyone around her and behaves as if her life is a Hollywood movie in which she has the starring role. Dom has already been shot down once but willingly requests a move to an active company so he can continue to fly. They fall completely, dramatically in love and trust in a happy ever after ending.
The first half of the novelwas like this and I was starting to question whether Jasmine Nights would be a book for me. Where was the grit? The realism? But as I read into the second half and Saba became more involved with her spying mission, the grit gradually seeped in and both Saba and Dom learned some hard lessons indeed. The technique of making the first half so light and glamourous was a success as it provided a great contrast with the events nearer the end of the book. The final sections were gripping to read and I think Gregson was clever to structure the novel in the way she did.
Overall, I did think there was too much romance. I don't mind reading about characters falling in love and it was well written, but in this book what I really wanted to read about was Saba's role in the secret service. I knew that women served as spies during World War Two and I find this completely fascinating. I wanted the character of Mr Cleeve, Saba's agent/boss, to be further developed, especially his reaction in the aftermath of events at the end of the book. For someone intelligent, Saba shows remarkably little curiosity about the secret service - I wanted her to find out more so I could be in on the secret too! Altering the balance slightly away from romance would have made this novel work better for me.
All in all, I enjoyed Jasmine Nights. The setting of WWII Egypt was of course wonderful and I was satisfied with the ending. I just found the first half a bit too light and fluffy and a bit too long.
Source: From the publisher (Simon and Schuster) via Netgalley
First Published: 5th June 2012
Score: 4 out of 5