Dear Ms. Duran:
I was probably the only member of the Dear Author reviewing team that didn’t love your freshman debut, DUKE OF SHADOWS. For me, it read like a love story between you and India and not so much a love story between the characters. I admit that despite the urging of your critique partner, Janine, that I was reluctant to read your follow up book. I put off reading it until recently when I cracked it open just to read the first couple chapters and ended up not being able to put it down.
It’s obvious from the categorization of this post that I gave the book an A. It’s the first without qualification A I’ve given in a long time but I tried to look for flaws and couldn’t find them. This is a story that was technically masterful as well as being a great love story. I think it’s a book in which I would find new layers and meaning each time I read it.
Lydia Boyce is a spinster, living with her sister who is married to the man that Lydia thought she would marry. She’s plainer than her younger two sisters and has sought refuge in the love and approval of her father, a scholar of Egyptian artifacts. Her father has been in Egypt for some time, uncovering ruins and sending goods back to be sold from time to time. He needs more funding and Lydia is his emissary, handling the sale of his goods and writing papers based on her father’s research.
James, Lord Sanburne, has only the mildest interest in Egyptian artifacts. In fact, his only interest is in besting his father. If his father had taken an interest in Chinese goods, James would have wanted the priciest, most difficult to obtain Ming vase. Instead, they duel over Egyptian artifacts. James intrudes on an archaeology society meeting carrying a stela. He steals the thunder of Lydia and likely reduces her chances of gaining funding for her father. Lydia decries his stela as a fake.
Sanburne’s fight with his father is a real one. Sanburne’s sister, Stella, killed her husband after he beat her one too many times. She was put in an asylum and the one visit that Sanburne was granted haunted him. He begged his father to remove her to somewhere else, just as he had begged his father to help his sister when she first ran away from her husband.
Sanburne and Lydia’s attraction to each other made perfect sense. Lydia was very strong. Her personality is strong, of course, but there is mention made of her physical strength. Their lovemaking is fierce with each marking the other. Sanburne, I think, revels in the fact that he could not break Lydia no matter how he tried. He revels in her intellect too: “No. You take my meaning. That’s the joy of seducing an intelligent woman: you follow me perfectly.”
Lydia is attracted to Sanburne because of his seeming ease at taking joy in life, even though that is often a mask. Sanburne challenges her as well. He constantly makes her answer for her actions where no one has in the past. He questions her, makes her think. No matter how insulting she is to him, Sanburne makes her dig deep for the why of it.
The sex scenes in this book were very moving and perfectly in keeping with character and plot. One of my favorite parts was where Sanburne says to Lydia: “”I see every part of you.. your body was only the last bit.” and Lydia replies “Let me see the same.”
Craftwise, this book was amazing. There was no wasted scene or sentence. At one point, James is boxing. In many books a scene like this merely provides a background to have some dialogue. This scene, however, serves to instruct the reader on many points. It shows us why James is physically hardened as Lydia notes. It shows us that James seeks constant absolution for living while his sister is imprisoned. He seeks out pain and maybe even the oblivion of the knock out but never gets it. “He had fists like hams, didn’t he.” The scene provides foreshadowing of Lydia’s weakness and James’ believable use of strength of her behalf. That one scene portrays so many points of the story.
Mirroring was used to great effect. Lydia loves her father and is his emissary. James hates his father and does everything he can to embarrass the man. Lydia is often at loggerheads with her sisters, betrayed by Sophie. James loves his sister and wishes he could have saved her. The way that these two characters’ paths arc and cross and blend is really amazing and I can’t say more because it would ruin the story.
There’s so much I didn’t touch on in the review such as the themes of selfishness, the concept of absolution and redemption, the act of forgiveness. One simple review couldn’t address it all. Readers will have to read the book to see the true beauty of the work.
Of course, now I am beset with another fear. Can any work of yours possibly top this one? A
This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers on June 30, 2009.