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REVIEW: Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

Dear Ms. Duran:

Book CoverYour 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.

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon, Powells or in ebook format.

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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?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

7 Comments

  1. Kathleen MacIver
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 16:43:33

    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.

    When Amazon was having its contest, I only had time to read and critique about five of the entries. Meridith’s was one of them, and this comment right here was exactly the problem I had with it. I remember writing that it seemed as though Emma was viewing India through a picture window, rather than being immersed in it. When I heard that she had won, I remember hoping that this had been corrected in the editing.

    Otherwise, however, the first two chapters were great. (I don’t remember the shipwreck, so I think the prologue wasn’t included.) I liked how she portrayed Julian, especially. I’ll have to read the final product and see how I like it.

  2. Nicole
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 18:36:28

    I’m sure that eventually I’ll have to read this one just to see where I fit, but as my pile of tbr books grows higher, it’s probably going to be at the bottom. Who knows, perhaps it will come in to work and I’ll read it during lunch. Thanks for the review.

  3. Janie H
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 11:02:29

    After reading some online comments yesterday, I went out and bought this book and read it all through the afternoon. Frankly, though flawed (there are no perfect books), I felt it was one of the best romances I’ve read in years. I would have given it an A, considering the other A reviews on this blog. I even liked it better than Joanna Bourne’s novel, which was also fantastic, but they are two different birds in terms of style.

    What has not been talked about is the layering in this novel, the emotional truths, the honest characterizations. (although the nasty Marcus reminded me of a similar character in the movie version of The Jungle Book) Most romances (and they should be) are riddled with fantasy characters who move above reality. Not so here. The motivations and conflicts were well-grounded.

    Other elements that was shockingly good, the narrative pacing, how the author moved from plot to character to sexual tension. POV was excellent. Description remained part of character, not outside of it. Prose, very nice. None of this may matter to the ordinary reader, but to those of us who want to promote romance, it should. It’s a very well written novel.

    It is odd that I felt the first two chapters were the weakest, but only in terms of execution, not content.

    In terms of history and all the artist elements, well, this is my time period and I’m also an artist, so I was attracted to the plot and characters by nature. The Lady of Shalott references and how the author played that out were wonderful. It was a layered novel. A novel that really worked on more than one level. And that’s a gift in this genre.

    Lastly, it was a wonderful romance.

  4. Jane
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 11:14:05

    I am glad that you liked it Janie H. It is a book that has sparked a diversity of opinions. Jan has still another view from Robin’s and mine and it more parallels yours. I would take exception to your claim that good prose and narrative pacing and so forth “may not matter to the ordinary reader” as I think those are all elements of a good book.

  5. Ann Aguirre
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 12:25:55

    I agree with nearly everything you said, Janie.

    When I said the book was perfect, I perhaps should have said, perfect for me. When I’m reading, I look for a book that will shut my internal editor up. I find it increasingly harder to read without my internal editor rewriting, culling phrases, tsking over comma splices and whatever else. With Meredith’s book, I was so swept into the story that all other considerations became irrelevant. I’m sure if I took a red pen to it, I could find imperfections, but the story and characters wowed me so that I just didn’t want to. And that’s close enough to perfect for me.

  6. Janie H
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 13:22:22

    Jane, exception taken. ;> I should have clarified that many readers are not writers or even online, and some of them could care less about POV and such things. My internal editor is always reading, too. TOO much probably, but I am one of those readers who likes how a book is written as much as story.

    Ann, it was a perfect read for me, too. My eyes teared up at the end of Part 1, and I can be one cold fish, too. To know that the heroine went sort of mad and then painted herself out of madness and all the loneliness. Art and writing are such solitary labors. I loved the story. I haven’t been able to write a thing today, for thinking of how moving it all was.

    There was *some element to the author’s style* which I cannot express in words, a sort of movement or pattern that just swept *you as reader* away. This prose-like-song carried the reader, and then Part 2, it changed into another song, and moved quite differently, but with compliment.

    When those two, Julian and Emma, got into that carriage, driving away from Colthurst’s house, I thought, OMG!–(the latter part of Chapter 18), there’s the usual way out of kind of scene and this there is this, this wonder.

    I emailed all my friends and told them to buy the book!

  7. The Duke of Shadows « Jorrie Spencer
    May 12, 2008 @ 09:23:22

    […] this, and rounded them up here. Dear Author has a number of reviews of varying grades by: Janet, Jane and […]

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