The Duke of Shadows (2008)

THE DUKE OF SHADOWS by Meredith Duran
By Meredith Duran

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.
Ann absolutely adored this book and recommended that I read it. It's been hailed along with The Spymaster's Lady, Private Arrangements and Your Scandalous Ways as one of the best historical romances of 2008, although some responses have been critical, the most common of which is that the first and second halves read like two separate books.

I'd have to agree. The first half takes place in India and runs the full gamut of their initial courtship, from suspicion and attraction to trust and affection. The second half takes place in London for years later, where they again have to repeat the courtship that was ruined after the Indian mutiny. They return to the initial default of suspicion and attraction, and work their way back to trust and affection.

This dual courtship kept me from thoroughly enjoying the book as a whole. By the time I reached London with them, I felt like we had started all over--but I don't want to start over that far along in their relationship. That should be the place where they're getting all gooey for each other and re-evaluating what mistakes had been keeping them apart.

In that respect, Duran accomplished the task of eliciting an emotional response from me. I sincerely disliked seeing them lose that love and trust, behaving as cruel strangers instead of the lovers they had been, and the resulting war of words tried my patience. Just make up already! You survived! Kiss her!!

So while many people made comment about the unusual setting and strong Indian detail, Duran's most daring experiment was with the basic structure of a romance novel. This led me to think that while I appreciate historical romances set in unusual places, I don't necessarily like the formula messed with. I want my happy ending and a relatively emotional arc.

God, I sound like a moron. Ignore me.

Duran loves her semi-colons--I'm not a fan, much preferring my beloved em dashes--but she also loves lush detail, expressive prose, and a strong historical background. Me too. So even though the more experimental structure didn't work for me, the read wasn't a loss. I learned a great deal and rooted for the characters the whole way. I don't know if it's one of the best historicals of 2008. After all, I've heard there's at least one awesome release scheduled for December. *blushes from self pimping* But I was certainly entertained. I suspect a bit of sequel bait with Lockwood and his feisty wife, so I look forward to seeing where Duran goes from here.

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