The story of a wartime romance between a young fighter pilot and a young woman in a military overseas entertainment troupe, set against the backdrop of Cairo and Istanbul in 1942, just the offensive is about to expand dramatically in that region, Jasmine Nights might sound like a light exotic romantic war novel, but don't be fooled. Inspired by the wartime background of her own parents, Julia Gregson understands the true nature of people trying to maintain normal relationships during the war, and manages to put across the essence of it brilliantly with the situation she develops from it.
"These men don't fight for democracy or freedom or any of that guff...", one of her characters tells Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) singer Saba Tarcan at one point in the book, "...they fight for their mum or for their girl, and as far as they are concerned, you're it for the ten minutes you're on the stage". There's an essential truth in this that the author recognizes and it makes the story of Saba and Dom, a fighter pilot she met recuperating from burns in a hospital back home, all the more vital. It's one thing to think of your loved ones back home while fighting to keep them safe, but it's quite another matter when the object of your affections - affections so freshly aroused - is out there on the front, tantalizingly close, but separated by potentially great danger.
The war dangers that separate Dom and Saba, bringing them together only for their respective duties to suddenly separate them is the strong hook that holds the story together. For Saba, the concerns about Dom in a war where a quarter of the fighter pilots have already died, including Dom's closest friend, are obvious, but for Dom, the potential dangers in the region are also more than his "girl" performing in front of hundreds of lusting, lonely troops - but little does he know about that the reconnaissance and listening in to foreign guests that Saba has been asked to be party to could lead her into an even more dangerous spying operation.
For all the flights of exoticism and romanticism that Jasmine Nights finds in this situation - caught on the wave of a song or in the pull of flying a Spitfire - it still manages to keep its feet on the ground and never allows you to forget that what they are involved in is important and has real meaning. The two main characters constantly think about their families back home, reflecting on who they are, where they come from, and - in these uncertain times - who they are likely to turn out to be, transformed by their new discoveries in a changing world that tantalizingly holds so much promise, but whose outcome is by no means certain. Julia Gregson's writing captures the immediacy of living in the moment, in the excitement of romantic attraction during a time of war, making this a thrilling and entertaining read, but one that has depths in its understanding of the true stakes involved.