The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Duke of Shadows was a meaty, involving historical romance, the kind I love! I admit I put off reading this book because I wanted to be in the right mood for it. I was hesitant when I started it, feeling it would be too much for me right now. However, it turned out to be a good book to read at this time, because I was completely focused on the storyline.
I completely respect the way Ms. Duran addressed the setting of the British Raj in India, mid 1800s. She showed the complex issues at work: nationalism, prejudice, exploitation, cultural insensitivity, imperialism, loyalty, race; and for Julian and Emmaline, add falling in love to that picture. Although I have discussed with some romance fans who don't enjoy exotic settings about the tendency to pander to stereotypes or to oversimplify the pertinent issues, I enjoy exotic settings very much. Probably because I crave a good story of adventure and of travel to far away destinations--it adds another desirable layer to the escapist joy of romance reading. Of course, I do want to experience writing that does reach that 'next level,' and that addresses the important topics that go along with imperialism in a clear, thoughtful, and honest way. I feel that Ms. Duran did accomplish this in writing The Duke of Shadows.
As the descendant of African slaves, Native American tribespeople, and Irish immigrants to America, I can identify with the anger and sense of injustice of being under someone's economic and social yoke, with the wrong belief by the overrriding culture that they are bettering the savage or inferior race, showing a profund lack of respect for the beliefs and cultures of that 'conquered' group of people. I definitely could see the side of the native Indians, their land taken over, their cultures devalued, their people abused. On the other hand, the savagery in which the natives attack the British residents, civilian (including children and women) and soldier alike was very difficult and injust in a different way. Two wrongs never make a right. Duran shows both cultures at their best and their worst, making it clear that at the heart, we are all humans, good and bad.
I'm sure that Julian felt like he was being ripped in two by the uprising, having both Indian and English blood flowing in his veins. Not to mention that he never seemed to belong fully to either culture--too Indian to be a British person, and too British to be an Indian man. On top of that, was the fear that he couldn't protect Emmaline, the woman he'd fallen in love with, or his Indian relatives. This made for a very dramatic, somewhat shocking in parts, and extremely poignant read. Also, seeing Emma's breakdown and her struggle to survive after what she'd seen and experienced, and had to do for her survival. I can understand her anger at Julian in believing he'd failed to honor his promise to her, that he'd forgotten about her. Especially after the traumatic loss of her parents.
The reunion between these reunited lovers in London had me glued to the page. It was both what I would expect, and completely different. I was prepared to it to be powerful. I had not counted on Emma's rage. I didn't expect for Julian to be so out of control and primal in his need to hold Emma, even in polite company. Of course it made sense. Although their time together in India was short, a profound bond had formed, and their separation had left enormous holes in each other's hearts. They had come to love and rely on each other deeply, both in the tamer times in the British Raj, and during the fires of blood-soaked revolt. Despite all that had passed while they were separated, that love still simmered deep inside them both. However, they had to break past the barriers and the pain that Emma faced. From what I surmised, Julian would have taken up where they left off without a second thought, making Emma his duchess, since his love had never died. To my surprise, Emma turns out to be the more tortured person in this book. Julian's life had always been troublesome to some extent, because of his mixed heritage. He had many years to develop strong defense mechanisms that protected him from the scorn of society, and he had cultivated a reputation for being a fairly notorious, edge-riding member of the Ton. Not one easily dismissed, but not completely accepted by all in the snooty British society realms. For Emma, to go from being a coddled young girl with loving parents, to an orphan forced into a loveless engagement, to fighting for her life in a world in which she is hated and people want to kill her and her kind (and seeing her countrymen commit their own unspeakable acts of brutality), was no simple thing to recover from. It left deep scars on her psyche. It might have destroyed a more frail person, I'm sure.
Meredith Duran's writing reminds me of some of my favorite historical romance writers, like Laura Kinsale, Connie Brockway, and Anna Campbell, in a good way, although she establishes her own unique style and voice. It has a depth and an authenticity that shows me that she respects the time period and the impact of a historical romance with a powerful sense of period, texture, and intensity of emotion and passionate romance. Julian and Emma both are potent, vivid characters that resonated within me as I read. I think that Ms. Duran will likely become a favorite for the manner in which she writes, and the compelling charisma of her characters. This book just has that 'extra wow factor' that I look for in a historical romance, after more than twenty years of reading this genre.
Although there were parts of this novel that I felt weren't ideally paced, I think this is a five star read, because I was so involved and transfixed by this story. And I have to say this is an excellent effort for a first time author. I formed a bond with this book. I didn't just read it, I experienced the story of Julian and Emma as an active participant. The powerful pull into a story will urge me to give a book five stars, as I did in this case. Recommended!
View all my reviews