Title: The Duke of Shadows
Author: Meredith Duran
Review number: 43
Genre: Historical Romance
Stand alone / series: Stand alone
Summary: Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin has no interest in courting trouble. But when violence seizes the British colonies, 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. In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. When Emma’s life falls into his hands, Julian cannot imagine the lengths he will go to keep her safe — or how love itself will become their greatest danger. A lifetime later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian will finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned . . . and some passions may never die.
Why did I read the book:
This is a new release who has been getting a lot of hype. Writer Ann Aguirre loved it so much she started a Duke of Shadows Sweepstakes
Some people are engraved into your palm, child; from birth, they are with you, know it or not.
Once again I find myself starting a review by saying “do not judge a book by its cover”. The Duke of Shadows is an absolutely stunning debut work by Meredith Duran.
As the story opens, Emmaline Martin is an heiress who has just survived a ship wreck where she lost her parents; they had set on a voyage to British India to meet her fiancée, Marcus, the man her parents had arranged for her to marry. Upon arriving in India she starts to realize that the fact that she survived a most horrendous experience was not enough to gain sympathy from the Delhi Society – in fact it becomes clear that the fact that she was rescued by sailors has tainted her reputation. To English society she would probably be better off dead. It would be a grave and sad realization to be cut off from society like this if Emma didn’t have such a clear mind as to realize what was important in life – what really mattered. Other than sit enclosed with the other white women – the memsahib ( how the English women were called in India) – calming sipping tea and reading English books completely cut off from the world they were living on, Emma wanted to experience the difference, to embrace the strangeness of the place and to learn about it. A woman ahead of her time who struggled with this facet of herself. Who wished she could FIT but who couldn’t – not entirely.
Julian Sinclair, Marcus’ cousin and heir to the Dukedom of Auburn back in England is a man trapped between two worlds: his Indian heritage makes him tainted to the eyes of the English society as much as his English blood makes him stained in the eyes of his Indian compatriots. Julian is somewhat the voice of reason amongst the English elite by bringing to their attention that the Sepoys, the Indian soldiers serving under the English army, were feeling restless and possibly preparing a revolt. His concerns were overlooked and dismissed as the English had such contempt for the local populace as to overlook what was right there in from of their face and which led to a one year bloody revolt known as The Indian Mutiny of 1857.
Emma and Julian meet and they connect almost immediately although to start with they were not very certain about each other, of what they were. Both hanging in between worlds. Julian between his Indian roots, where his heart belongs and his English roots where his duty belongs. Emma, on the other hand never quite certain of her place – sometimes it was clear she was beyond what society expected from her, sometimes she just couldn’t help herself by trying to fit in. Very difficult to be so modern as to not pay attention to what others think of you – of what is proper. It was always very clear to Julian that there were two Emmas:
“And there it was again: the visage of the proper memsahib, flickering over her true face like the projection from a camera obscura. She could not quite decide who she wanted to be. Or perhaps, he thought, she simply did not know she had a choice in the matter”.
Soon her fiancée shows his true violent, conniving face, she breaks off the engagement with him. But before anything else can happen, the revolt starts and is Julian who has to take her to safety. In their horrific, violent journey, they rely on each other and they fall in love.
It could be such an stereotypical point of departure – the two – alone- in- the – crowd, ahead – of – their – time protagonists that come together against all odds in the middle of something larger than both of them; but because of the writing, the prose that is so lyrical, and so abundantly beautiful it becomes truly, a work of significance, a tour the force that combines both romance and history in a most inspiring way. .
I can not stress enough how GOOD and beautiful the writing itself is.
My historian heart leapt with giddiness in my chest at the amazing descriptions of British day to day life in India, and of the murmurs of the revolt coming up . I can see Mrs Duran has done a fantastic job at recreating that moment in time with a lot of research behind it. But do not fret if you are not a fan of boring historical settings, Mrs Duran’s genius never lets it be a mere soulless setting – quite the contrary: the historical background has so much life to it, her descriptions are so vivid and interesting that colour and smells , sounds and feelings leap from the pages. I could SEE as much as I could feel that world coming to life before my eyes as much as I could feel and see the same world crumbling down later on. All through the eyes of Emma and Julian. At points I laughed, at points I was horrified by the ugliness of the violence that is described with minutia, a violence that encircles them all the way through. I confess I even cried when Julian and Emma have their first love scene – not because it was sad but because of the sheer beauty of it.
But they are separated once Julian takes her to safety – he must go back to Delhi to try get to his family and he leaves her behind promising that he will be back for her, not knowing that his choice will mean a four year separation that takes them and us to London, 4 years later. This is where the story enters its second phase.
I am half-sick of Shadows – Julian , quoting the The Lady of Shalott to Emma
Julian thinks Emma is dead and has somewhat moved on with his life even though it is clear he is still suffering for not having saved her – he is consumed with grief and with guilt that only know is beginning to subside. Emma on the other hand, knows Julian is alive and well but because she believes he just left India without looking for her she has never contacted him. Emma has become a painter and an event has been organized to show her work and this is where she meets Julian again –she is adamant that this encounter will not matter because she thinks she meant nothing to him, but Julian is god smacked when he sees the woman he loves alive and well, albeit still suffering from something close to a post traumatic stress disorder – by the things they witnessed together but mostly by the horrendous experiences she went through when she had to flee the safe house he had left her in.
If I think the first half of the book was absolutely perfection, I have mixed feelings with regards to the second part. I thought it didn’t quite live up to expectations I had after reading the first half. I thought the reasoning (or lack of) behind their separation and Emma’s melodramatic actions were a little bit contrived and I felt it served only to bring conflict to the story –clichés which reminded me of the Ye Old Big Misunderstanding.
I was also peeved with the fact that Julian’s inner struggle between two worlds was left unattended which, coupled with a secondary plot revolving around Emma’s paintings and the return of the ubber villain Marcus, were not particularly to my liking as a reader. However, having said that, there were still moments of brilliance specially through the emotional moments shared by Emma and Julian – from the first time he sees her alive to his pursue for the truth behind her actions.
If Emma acted too much like a TSTL heroine, Julian on the other hand, was a fantastic draw out character – flawed and yet heroic, who loved Emma but was willing to let her go if that’s what she really wanted. But because he could see through her and read her body language – again a superb descriptive effort by the writer – spoken language was not the only means of communication between them – he knew what she needed and how to help her get through her moments of madness so they can find happiness together and leave the past behind.
In any case, even though I felt the book was uneven in the development of the story with some parts much better than others plotwise, I was still very much engrossed in the writing. I was drinking from Mrs Duran words and at some points I felt myself drunk with the overflow of pure beauty. There is not a better word for this book – it is simply, beautiful.
Even though this is not a perfect book, at this point in time it is very likely it will make my top 10 reads of 2008.
Notable quotes/ Parts: If I could, I would quote their first love scene but I truly think it should be read in context to be fully appreciated. So I will quote one part when Emma thinks they are about to die in the hands of a couple of sepoys who had just found their hiding place:
“ And then he (Julian) focused on her, and he smiled.It carried the force of a physical slap, that smile. It shocked her to her bones. He had shown her a great many smiles since she’d met him – enigmatic, amused, mocking; cheerful, mischievous, grimly determined. But this one she had never seen. It stole her breath more effectively than fear. An angel’s curve of lips, this: a gentle benediction, a silent understanding. An acknowledgment of the strangeness of a God that would lead them to such an end. Most inexplicably, a sweet reassurance that he would not complain of having had to share it with her. “
Additional Thoughts: There are those moments when one is reading where everything becomes clear and things fall into place. I had one such moment of clarity while reading this book – which related to the title itself. Sometimes with romance novels I find that titles can be merely unfit marketing choices that have nothing to do with what is inside – the proverbial do not judge a book by it’s cover or by it’s title. I thought this was one example of that until near the end it became clear that the title does mean something: exactly what it says. Sounds simple and trite but it’s true. Julian was the Duke of Shadows because shadows were all around him , were all around Emma and he was the one that was able to walk through and get them both out.
The moment of clarity came when he quoted to Emma, one my favourite poems of all times: The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. A poem about a lady who lives in a tower and who has been cursed to constantly weave a magic web without looking directly out at the world. Instead, she looks into a mirror which reflects the busy road and the people of Camelot which pass by her island. Until she sees Lancelot (Or King Arthur’s fame ) and falls in love and decides to leave the tower by boat, but dies before she can reach the shore.
Julian at one point says to Emma: I am half sick of Shadows – to exemplify that he thought she was locking herself in a tower making herself unreachable – and he was the one who was trying to break that spell she put herself into.
You can find the complete poem here. John William Waterhouse, one of my favourite painters painted nothing less than 3 different paintings each showing a different stage of the poem.
Verdict: Undoubtedly one of the best romances I have read, especially for the writing style. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a bit more of history and a bit more of edge and darkness to their romance.
Rating: 8 Excellent. If I were to rate part 1 alone I would give it a straight 10, absolute perfection.
Reading next: Taking the Heat by Kathryn Shay