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Monday, April 21, 2008:
"Duke of Shadows" by Meredith Duran (2008) - review

Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star (March 25, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1416567038
ISBN-13: 978-1416567035

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.

Thanx to author Ann Aguirre, I discovered this lovely, lovely book. As soon as I had finished the book I was already in the middle of, I picked up "Duke of Shadows" and got completely lost in it. (Ann, you were right! It was perfect for me, too).
Because of the bit of buzz around the 'net, I then found myself reading the reviews, much like I did for "Private Arrangements" and "The Spymaster's Lady", because I'm curious to know what others thought of it, yet you know what? When it comes down to it, other opinions really don't matter all that much to me. I loved this book, and it worked for me, and that's all that should count. I don't care about prose and execution and layering and all that. I care whether the story grabs me and pulls me inside, whether I'm so caught up in what is happening on the page that I have no idea what time it is. Not many books do that for me anymore, so when one does, it should be celebrated. So here goes...

At the very beginning of the story, Emmaline is fighting for her life as she floats alone on the ocean, the only survivor of the ship bound to India. She almost wishes to join her parents, who were already pulled under by a wave of water, but something inside her resists the temptation to let go. She is not ready to die yet.

May, 1857 Delhi. Nor is she ready for the chilly reception she receives upon being rescued and brought to India, where her military fiance' currently resides. Emma is disappointed to discover society is just as restrictive here as it is in England, if not moreso. As a woman, she cannot even travel with a female companion without being accosted, and the heat and vividness of this unusual country are having a strange effect on her. She keeps crossing paths with the Marquess of Holdesmoor and future Duke of Auburn, Julian Sinclair. And her fiance's cousin.

Of both English and Indian descent, Julian is a man who doesn't truly belong anywhere, always slightly away from the crowd, yet grudgingly demanding respect for his elevated position in society. He notices Emma right off, senses her stillness in the crowd, not quite sure if he finds her beautiful, but is struck by her all the same. Their conversations are more honest than the ones she shares with her fiance'. But Emma is no longer that innocent girl she was in England, and she is resigned to her marriage, despite her growing fascination for Julian, knowing it is what is expected of her, and what her parents would have wanted for her. She soon learns, however, that Marcus is not the man she thought he was, and seeks to end their engagement. She decides to run off with Julian, who has promised to take her away from her controlling fiance'.

The English who reside in India are arrogant, smug in their belief that despite rumblings to the contrary, the natives wouldn't dare stage a revolt. However that is exactly what happens, and it is a bloody, violent army of mutinous soldiers who are eager to exact the type of treatment on the British that has been done to them, in their own country. Julian, on his way to the Residency to meet up with Emma, later catches up with her as she flees on horseback, and rescues her from unimaginable horrors. Together they leave the city, and Julian tries to bring her somewhere safe, somewhere a British woman won't be harmed, as he must leave her and tend to his Indian family and try to do what he can for them before it is too late. Despite Emma's fears, he reassures her that he will come back for her because he loves her, and she believes him. There are weeks of quiet existence, until one day the sepoys arrive and it is no longer safe for Emma to stay in the sanctuary Julian brought her to. Once again she flees, this time alone....

I hesitate to continue any further with the description of the book at the risk of giving away important details so I will stop there. However from start to finish, I was completely engaged in Julian's and Emma's story. It did falter a bit for me around the last fourth of the book, and I felt the ending was too abrupt for my satisfaction, but other than that, I really LOVED this story. I found the settings in India to be fascinating, the relationship between Julian and Emma to be fulfilling and heartbreaking, and I definitely felt it was time well-spent with these two lonely people who didn't fit in anywhere but together they built their own world.

My heart ached at their long separation, and I had to wonder how they would ever truly find their way back to each other. It's evident that the love they had for each other in India is much different than the love they had many years later, and that was a little sad, but I don't think there could have been a way for Emma and Julian to be together in the same way as they had been in India. They had both been away from each other for too long, their lives changing so much, that they had to work out a way to accept what they'd become, as they were no longer the same people they were. They'd experienced too much, lost too much, to hide away those memories in a closet forever. Emma was strong throughout, but broken, numb, incapable in some ways of forgiving Julian for leaving her. Julian was not the rake you might imagine him to be, considering his position in English society; instead there was a stillness about him, a deep well of emotion that made him recognize Emma, knew her to be the one woman he could not live without, but must learn to do so all the same. Finding a way to break through her walls proved to be near impossible, yet he loved her still. Oh, I just get teary-eyed thinking that they'd come so far yet couldn't be rid of the pain that still endured.

This was Meredith Duran's first novel, and if this is an example of the burgeoning talent she possesses, you can be sure I will be snapping up her next release as soon as I can get my greedy little hands on it. Bravo Ms. Duran, for creating such a captivating story that even now, days later, I still cannot get out of my head. Parts of the story I re-read, including the ending, which did feel more satisfying the 2nd time around. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2008.

(And stay tuned for a contest to win this book....)

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****

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  1. I totally agree with everything you said. I'm so happy you liked it!

  2. Nice! I have this one, just haven't been in a historical mood lately. Once I am, it'll be what I pick up. I'm headed to CA next week, so I'll probably tote it along for a good read.

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