The Duke of Shadows, by Meredith Duran

>> Saturday, July 30, 2011

TITLE: The Duke of Shadows
AUTHOR: Meredith Duran

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Pocket Star

SETTING: Victorian India and England
TYPE: Romance

In a debut romance as passionate and sweeping as the British Empire, Meredith Duran paints a powerful picture of an aristocrat torn between two worlds, an heiress who dares to risk everything...and the love born in fire and darkness that nearly destroys them.

From exotic sandstone palaces...

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé's betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.

To the marble halls of London...

In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous -- and that a single decision can alter one's life forever.

Destiny follows wherever you run.

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned...and some passions never die.
Meredith Duran's debut, The Duke of Shadows starts in India, where newly-arrived Emmaline Martin realises that her longtime fiance is an absolute dog, and becomes fascinated by his cousin Julian. Julian is part Indian, so any interaction with him is regarded as scandalous by Anglo-Indian society, but Emma has always have a bit of the rebel in her, and she comes to know him better, which only makes her doubts about her fiance stronger.

Before anything can really develop, though, the Indian mutiny breaks out, and the she and Julian escape only by the skin of their teeth. Unfortunately, they become separated and Julian believes Emma is dead. Emma, meanwhile, witnesses some very horrible things on the way to safety, and becomes convinced that Julian has abandoned her.

Years later, they meet in London. Julian has been mourning Emma all those years, and is ecstatic to see her. Emma, however, is not so happy to see Julian, and wants nothing to do with him.

This is a difficult review to write. I really, really admired The Duke of Shadows. The writing is amazing. It's beautiful in a poetic, but understated way. It's not lush and rich (like, say, a Judith Ivory -which I love as well, by the way), but reminded me more of Laura Kinsale's style. Every word perfectly chosen, not everything spelled out, painting a picture but leaving a space for the reader to make an effort, as well.

The characters were as complex and subtle, as the writing promised. Emma is an artist who actually feels like an artist, and her reactions to her recent past and to Julian are not obvious. Pulling through the difficulties has allowed her to become a strong and independent woman, but this is done in a way that felt right for the time and for who she was. And Julian is fantastic as well. He's got his own issues, especially with his mixed heritage and the way this means society isn't particularly accepting of him, but it's really Emma who's the tortured character here, so Julian is more a healing presence, even if to do so he must challenge Emma and not leave her in peace.

So far so fantastic, so why did I find this review hard to write? Simply because while I admired the book, I found it hard to love it. As I was reading it, I felt I should be enjoying it more than I was. I'd go "wow" at a particularly wonderful turn of phrase and marvel at the way the characters were being drawn, but at the same time, I just couldn't really *feel* what I knew I should be feeling. Emma was the most problematic, while I could understand her intellectually, I never completely emotionally got her reactions and why she felt certain things. It was as if there was a veil between her character and me, and it made for a less satisfying read than I would have wished.

I'm wondering, though, if this might be a case of just not being in the right mood for a particular book. Reading this hasn't put me off in the slightest from trying Duran again, and I think I might even try to reread this at some point.



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