REVIEW: Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
Dear Ms. Duran:
Your path to publication is fairly well known to the readers of Dear Author. We posted updates about the Gather contest, had the opportunity to read your first two chapters online, and celebrated your victory in winning the first ever Gathers.com romance writing contest. A little while later, Janine shared with us that she is a critique partner of yours. You’ve been a frequent commenter and your insights into the genre have always been fascinating. It is because of that this review is doubly hard to write. I may be the only one with this contrary opinion as well, but in the interest of fairness to the readership here at DA, I was compelled to give my thoughts of this book.
I won’t belabor the plot as Janet carefully articulated it in her review. I found the prose to be good, but not extraordinary and for me, the prose was not enough to lift the characters and plot out of average status.
The story begins with a tumultuous shipwreck wherein Emmaline Martin is the only survivor. The prologue is a powerful emotional scene. Unfortunately what follows is an immediate denouement featuring fairly stock romance characters. In some sense, I felt that Duke of Shadows was a traditional historical romance wrapped in a fancy India cloth rather than having that cloth woven throughout.
Emma is a bluestocking with ordinary bluestocking concerns. She is bored with the British colonial society. She questions her role amongst these people. She’s attracted to the native culture and the native people. Her fiance, Marcus, is the villian. He is also a bit cardboard-ish. He is greedy (marrying Emma for her money), flagrantly cheats on Emma, and hits her too. I was waiting for the obligatory villian sex scene with one of his female relatives, but that, thankfully, never happened. Julian, the hero, is a half Indian, half English heir to a dukedom. He’s darker skinned, honorable, and disgusted with British imperialism while being heir to the highest title in the land.
In a twist, the heroine is the tormented character of the book. She’s beset with survivor’s guilt probably in part due to the shipwreck but seemingly more related to the events that take place in the second half of the book. I actually felt the opening scene with the shipwreck could have been completely removed and it would have had no impact on the overall story. That was a disappointment.
I also thought that for most of the first half of the book, heroine was less of a character and more of a vessel for whatever message the story was trying to convey at the time. Initially Emma was the bluestocking that was out of sync with the British colonial society. Then she played the role of the pro-colonial message as a foil for the anti-colonial hero. It wasn’t until the second half of the book that Emma came alive as an individual for me.
The good thing about this book is that Julian is not an alpha asshole. He’s actually a decent guy who wants to use his position to help those around him. Emma, too, is a likeable character when her emotional conflict becomes the center of the story. Emma and Julian’s connection is strong and romantic.
Ultimately, my biggest problem with the story is the first half. I think Duke of Shadows competently written with a sophisticated voice but I had a difficult time getting emotionally attached to the heroine. Even though the setting is fresh, many of the themes and motifs are traditional, particularly when it came to the characterization of the heroine. It was a struggle to get to the second half and I think for any other book, this would have been a DNF for me. C.
Ann Aguirre loves this book and is holding a contest to readers who blog about this book. Your opinion might be quite different than mine. The prizes include gift certificates to bookstores. We love those, don’t we?