Desert Isle Keeper
The Duke of Shadows
I read The Duke of Shadows for the first time some years ago – before I started reviewing – and I remember being blown away by the quality of the writing, the richness of the setting and the passion and intensity of the romance. I don’t get much time for re-reading these days, but I decided one was in order prior to reading and reviewing The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Lockwood is a major – and very intriguing – secondary character in The Duke of Shadows), and I was once again awed by the author’s talent and this wonderful book which was, incredibly, her début. As I didn’t write a review the first time around, I’m going to do that now – and award this book the DIK status it so richly deserves (and unaccountably did not receive when it was reviewed by AAR upon release).
It is 1857 and the British have ruled India – by fair means or foul (mostly foul) – for many years. Trouble is brewing, but for the majority of the British contingent, who are unable to conceive that anything could challenge the might of the Empire, it’s business as usual and continued obliviousness to the rumblings of disquiet around them. Only one man among their number dares to posit that the country teeters on the brink of revolt and that British lives may soon be endangered – but he is derided and his views dismissed, even though he is an English peer. Julian Sinclair, Marquess of Holdensmoor, is one quarter Indian which makes him someone who lives on the fringes of both English and Indian society. His Indian blood renders him ‘not quite the thing’ among the insular, rule-bound English, who look on him with disdain and suspicion in spite of his being the heir to a dukedom – while his English blood causes the same reaction among his Indian family.
Emmaline – Emma – Martin was travelling to India accompanied by her parents in order to marry her fiancé, an officer in the East India Company, when tragedy struck. Their ship was wrecked and Emma is one of the few survivors. The death of her parents – which she witnessed – has, naturally, affected her profoundly, but of more concern to Delhi society is the fact that she was rescued and transported to her destination on a ship full of rough sailors, so her reputation is now irretrievably tarnished. Emma’s fiancé, Marcus Lindley is handsome and charming, but as Emma has known for some time, does not believe in confining his ‘charms’ solely to his betrothed. Meeting him again for the first time in years, the scales fall from Emma’s eyes completely, and she sees him for what he is; arrogant, spiteful, dismissive of her intelligence and clearly only interested in her dowry. Emma, a spirited and determined young woman, means to break things off with him as soon as she can.
Emma and Julian Sinclair meet at the party being held to celebrate her engagement, where they quickly enter into a wryly humorous conversation and declare themselves to be the black sheep of their respective families. Emma doesn’t know who this intriguing, darkly handsome guest is at first, until she is steered away by Marcus who did not trouble to hide his animosity towards the other man. Marcus criticises Emma for speaking with Julian, telling her that he is pretty much a social outcast owing to his mixed blood – at which point she realises he is Marcus’ cousin, and that Marcus detests him because Julian is next in line to inherit the dukedom Marcus believes should be his.
After this initial meeting, we witness the slow awakening of attraction between Julian and Emma, two social misfits who gradually discover that they have more in common with each other than with those around them. When Julian’s dire predictions come true and Delhi erupts into mutiny and violence, he manages to get Emma away, and the pair head to Sapnagar, from whence Emma can make her way back to England. Ms. Duran does an outstanding job here of building a beautifully tender, passionate and intense emotional connection between the couple as they travel through burned-out villages and battle sites along their journey to safety. The descriptions of the landscape are wonderfully vivid, the pacing is superb and the romantic and sexual chemistry between Julian and Emma just leaps off the page. There is no question whatsoever that these people are kindred spirits and meant to be together – but fate has other plans, and it’s not until the second part of the book (set four years later) that we discover the truth behind the lies and unwarranted interference that cause both of them so much heartbreak.
I really don’t want to say much more about the plot from here on in; things get dark and angsty, and it’s obvious that Emma is still suffering the effects of her ordeals. She is filled with rage and feelings of betrayal and is determined not to allow herself to fall for Julian again given the magnitude of his deception; and Julian, who has somewhat reluctantly picked up the pieces of his life (and is now the Duke of Auburn) is truly knocked-for-six by Emma’s sudden and completely unexpected appearance in London. Misunderstandings lie heavily between them and fortunately Ms. Duran doesn’t allow them to go on for too long; yet even after Emma learns the truth (that Julian didn’t betray or deceive her), she is still unwilling to risk her heart again and is determined to leave England to pursue her artistic studies in Italy. While I understand that Emma is suffering from what we’d probably recognise today as PTSD, I did find her insistence on continually rejecting Julian to be the one discordant note in what is otherwise an outstanding novel. Julian – who has carried a huge burden of guilt from their time in India – realises that what Emma really needs is a friend, someone to talk to who shared many of her experiences, and he sets out to be just that. Gradually, he is able to break down her resistance and show her that he will always be there for her
The Duke of Shadows is an incredibly well-crafted, complex and powerful story that gripped me from first page to last and isn’t one I’m likely to forget in a hurry. The author does a fabulous job of depicting the narrow-mindedness, prejudice and cultural insensitivity that dominated the society of the British Raj, and her descriptions of places and events are incredibly vivid, putting the reader right in the centre of the picture. I’ll admit to being slightly less taken with the second part of the book, and to finding Emma on the verge of becoming unlikeable, but it’s testament to the author’s skill that I was able to understand her pain and her anger even as I didn’t like what it was doing to her and to Julian. Ms. Duran’s portrayal of a young woman who has experienced more tragedy in her life than anyone should have to is superbly multi-faceted; Emma evokes the reader’s sympathy while retaining a steely determination that has clearly supported her in dark times but which could also prove to be her own worst enemy.
Julian has been on my list of top romance heroes ever since I read the book the first time, and I’m pleased to say he’s still there. He’s gorgeous, clear-sighted, compassionate and deeply honourable; and when it comes to Emma he’s most insightful and understanding. He isn’t going to give up on her or let her give up on them, and his patience is justly rewarded.
At a time when the market is simply flooded with predictable, anachronistic wallpaper historical romances, it’s a real pleasure to read something like this, a shining example of what can be achieved in the genre. The Duke of Shadows is, in spite of the small reservations I have expressed, a fantastic read full of warmth, tenderness, humour, pathos and, at times, emotion so raw that it’s almost painful. If you’ve never read it – grab a copy now. If you have and haven’t found time to re-read it, then maybe it’s time to remind yourself just how great historical romance can be in the hands of an author as talented as Meredith Duran.
Buy Now: A/BN/iB/K
|Review Date:||January 25, 2018|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||artist | India | PoC | Top 100 Romance | Victorian|
Thanks so much for your timely post. I was just thinking I would love to read a Duran book and didn’t know which one to try. I loved Sins of Lord Lockwood and looked at Duran’s website to see if a new book would be coming out soon. There was no mention of one. After reading your post I will check out Duke of Shadows and Luck be a Lady. Thanks.
I just reread this on my 20 hour return from almost three weeks in India and found the book to be astonishingly accurate in its portrayal of that great nation’s mix of cultures, its turbulent history, and its vividly beautiful wonders.
Three things struck me this read. One, Emma’s art is the stuff that we often want to ban today. It’s a brutal depiction of the horrors of the 1857 rebellion and shows the grotesque violence both sides did to the other. At one point, when Emma is terrified to show her paintings, Lord Lockwood says she must because if she does not, if she destroys or hides them, people will forget or deny what was done.
Secondly, while being respectful of and exploring the joys of purdah, the seclusion of women in order to stay out of the sight of men, she makes it clear that Emma sees such a life as limiting. After having spent two weeks visiting historical sites in India, I have a much greater understanding of why Emma feels the way she does.
And lastly, while the standard of stated and enthusiastic consent may work for many–both in romance and in real life–it is not necessarily right for all lovers. Emma’s PTSD has left her emotionally stunted and frozen and it is, not wholly but in part, brought back to joy by Julian’s intentional pushing her out of her comfort zone. Again, Duran’s writing is deeply respectful of Emma and her needs. The way she writes Emma’s and Julian’s physical encounters in the second part of the book allows for Emma to be almost forcibly seduced and for Emma to get exactly what she needs.
I’m sure I’ve never read a better romance–this book really is extraordinary.
All I can do is echo everyone above. I was in a slump with HR when I ran across a review of this book and snapped it up, and I fell in love with Julian and romance all over again. It’s just a superb book, and to this day Duran is one of the authors I go to when my patience with subpar writing within the genre starts to wear thin.
Also, as much as it’s almost tantamount to blasphemy, I think Julian edges Dain out of the top spot for me. I love big broken babyman Dain, but Julian….sigh. If swoon were a person!
It’s funny–Dain would never be my go to hero. Julian? Hmmmmm…… Phin from Written on Your Skin is up there for me. Marcus from It Happened One Autumn is someone I think I could have married and been blissful. Asher from I Kissed An Earl. In contemp, Caleb from Ruthie Knox’s Along Came Trouble.
This is fun….
Do you suppose Jessica/Dain sit so consistently at or near #1 not so much for the characters as for Chase’s spectacular gift for dialogue? I don’t think I could stomach Dain for more than a Tinder date, but I mean, I’d give it a shot on the strength of her writing. I actually preferred Ainsley if I had to choose within that archetype.
Phin’s a great hero, and James, too. Man, she writes great guys. They are always nterestingly flawed without being overly stupid about it.
I could do this all day (and night, week, year…we all have our hobbies) but I also really loved Luciano from Stella Riley’s “The Black Madonna” who reminded me so strongly of Lymond my forever book boyfriend) but without all of his exhausting melodrama.
Ainsley? Lymond? What books do they spring from?
Oh, sorry! Lymond from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – the finest historical fiction I’ve ever read. Ainsley should be Ainswood, from Loretta Chase’s “The Last Hellion”
By comparing Stella Riley’s “The Black Madonna” to Lymond, you’ve just sold me that book. I LOVE Dunnet’s prose and her characterization of Lymond in all his complexity and ambiguity.
I have just ordered the first one. I’ve never heard of them!
Dabney, it was a life-altering experience for me. This is what historical fiction should be. However, I should warn you that Game of Kings can be a tough read. I bought a companion guide to read alongside it that helped to explain all the many details and references. I also listened to it on audio.
It is truly a life changing experience! I can’t help but compare all the other HF I read to that standard, which is so unfair because it is absolutely top-shelf writing. Caz turned me on to Stella Riley (and she has yet to steer me wrong) and I’ve since read every book of hers out there, and they are all outstanding. I’ll eat my hat if you don’t see Lymond in Luciano and ~a certain young woman~ in Kate. I don’t know if that’s everyone’s takeaway, but for me it was like getting to spend time with both of them again.
Stella Riley has been a favourite author of mine for over 30 years and Luciano is a gorgeous hero (although my favourite of hers is still Justin from A Splendid Defiance.
Dunnett’s Lymond books are masterpieces, and he’s an unforgettable hero.
Just finished a re-read of this at 2:00 am. I think I loved it more this second time that I did the first. There’s so much to savor and enjoy and both the principals are so compelling and interesting. I think I was so consumed with bingeing Ms. Duran’s collection the first time around, I didn’t allow myself to simply enjoy it. The story, the settings, the couple, the secondary character (starting Lockwood’s book tonight)…god, it’s so good.
My favorite Duran and maybe my favorite historical romance. Wonderful in every way.
I too was blown away by this book when I first read it. It’s not simply a terrific historical romance, it’s a terrific novel. I burble on and on about the wonderful ness of this book whenever it is mentioned.
Yes, this exactly – it’s so much more than a romance and everything is so brilliantly woven together.
Mary Beth said it perfectly!
My rankings of Duran’s novels (FWIW):
LUCK BE A LADY
THE DUKE OF SHADOWS
WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN
BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH
AT YOUR PLEASURE
FOOL ME TWICE
WICKED BECOMES YOU
A LADY’S LESSON IN SCANDAL
LADY BE GOOD
THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD
A LADY’S CODE OF MISCONDUCT
YOUR WICKED HEART
THAT SCANDALOUS SUMMER
Love this! Taking notes…
I’m impressed that you have such recall of Duran’s work.
She, Joanna Bourne, Julie Anne Long, and Sherry Thomas are my favorite historical romance writers.
I am in 100% agreement. Duran is incredible in her story telling and her characters are ever endearing as demonstrated in Duke of Shadows. I believe, I will hunt down my keeper shelves and give it a re-read again. Thanks Caz.
I’ve read all of Duran’s books and she’s one of my personal favorites. I do wish I had reread this book as I won an arc of The Sins of Lord Lockwood and could have benefited from revisiting Lockwood in the previous book. The Duke of Shadows is not my personal favorite from Duran’s back list but I remember really enjoying and appreciating how complex her writing is overall. She just gets better and better each year too.
Everything that Mary Beth said above. This book started my fascination with Duran’s writing, and she continues to write one great book after another.
She really does. My first Duran was actually Bound By Your Touch, but after that, I had to glom as much as I could. I have, however, one or two of her books still on my TBR for times when I need a really GOOD book because I know that no matter what mood I’m in, something of hers will always hit the spot.
Really? Which ones haven’t you read?
I’m saving up… erm… Lady Be Good and Wicked Becomes You.
This is one of my all time favorite books. I love everything about it.
It’s just brilliant. Even though it’s been a while since I read it first time around, it stayed with me, and I was just as powerfully moved by it on a re-read.
I wholeheartedly agree with you! This book was a revelation to me. It is the perfect example of what excellent historical fiction is capable of being – the interwoven history, the vibrant, authentic setting and the tender, tragic, passionate love story – this book hit it out of the ball park for me. It also made me a lifelong fan of Duran’s writing. Her books are sublime!
I have loved every one of her books – they’re all superb examples of what can be done in the HR genre. The combination of superb writing, interesting and compelling characters and wonderfully developed romances all set against a backdrop of historical authenticity marks MD out as a cut above.
I haven’t loved all of them. I’d say I’ve loved 75% and liked the other 25%. She’s always interesting to read, that’s for sure.