REVIEW: The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
Dear Ms. Duran,
One of my fellow reviewers knows you, but I went into this book without any preconceived notions. I didn’t read reviews (including those here), interviews, cover copy, even your posts here at DA. I knew nothing except Janine thought highly of your work. And while that’s usually a good recommendation for me, sometimes we don’t see eye to eye. This time I think we do. This is truly one of the best romances I’ve ever read.
I keep trying to think of how to express the superlatives that went through my mind reading it. I fangirled at each little perfect turn of phrase I’d come across that described a character or situation to a T. I started marking pages to use for quotes, only to find I’d torn a paper napkin to shreds and my book looked like a tissue flower.
For once in a romance it wasn’t a question of loving the hero or heroine, but of loving them together. Of loving their journey to get to know one another, watching them change subtly, slowly, realistically, inevitably. You wrote it with a clarity that on occasion stunned me and had me reading sections over and over.
The first love scene between them opened up the heroine to us even as the hero did the same. Everyone should read this love scene, if they want to know how to do one the right way. It’s that good. From just its beginning paragraph we given so much of Emma’s thoughts and feelings. Her reactions to the unknown say so much about her.
He grasped her face in his hands to slant her head, to give him deeper access, to fill her. Yes, do it, she thought, consume me, swallow me whole. Odd feelings with no root tore through her. She felt frenzied, almost angry, ready to jump out of her skin. He would take her before she went. How would she go? Would she die? Would she face the water again? Could anyone keep the promises she suddenly wanted from him? The questions fluttered up through her mind; then his hand was under her skirt, tracing a pattern on the back of one thigh, and they scattered like startled birds. His fingers slid down, gripping her a few inches above her knee, as his mouth ran down her throat.
Just typing that paragraph melted me. This is extra-strength characterization combined with heat creating some primal understanding between them. Alchemy. It’s exactly what a love scene should be. And it’s this chemistry between them that kept me riveted throughout the book.
If the book had a failing for me it was in the villain. He was stereotypical, and some of the elements of the plot in the very last section of the book were worn ones. But even then, you breathed new life into them with the way your main characters behaved, and I was laughing at how you made me enjoy it despite plot elements that normally annoy me.
I was bored at no point in this book, including the first half. I read the novel in two sittings, sleep and work between them. And the most telling thing is, I think, that when I reached the last page I opened it back up to the first and began reading again, loving it as much the second time around.
I was just telling the others that a couple of the books released this month have made romance new and exciting to me again. We speak of the Golden Age of Romance, of Putneys and Gaffneys and Ivorys as if it’s something we’ll never see again. Your book makes me think we’re wrong. A.
This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon, Powells or in ebook format.
Uh…correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the third review on this site alone of the same book? And didn’t Mrs. Giggles just review it, too?
Could you maybe mix things up a bit?
Man, I’m sorry, but there are so many romances published every damned week that reviewers falling prey to the “monkey see, monkey do” syndrome aren’t really doing the genre any favors!
(Uh-oh. I have a feeling I’ve just been egregiously tactless. No wonder I used to embarrass my parents.)
KZ – this is the third review of the Duran book. I guess we put them all up because our opinions were so divergent. I promise that we’ll have new books reviewed tomorrow and all next week. I suppose three is overkill. (and no, you aren’t being egregiously tactless. I really appreciate the feedback).
Jane, I don’t think 3 is overkill when the opinions diverge. The last time I gave a genre romance an unreserved A was back in 2004. I think this one was worth writing about, even if some people don’t want to read it.
I appreciated the third review as it is high praise indeed, coming from you (Jan) and I have a complaint – the book isn’t available in ebook.
As someone who felt moved to review Duran’s book, I apologize if the redundancy bothers some readers. There are just some books that a number of us read that move us to write about them for one reason or another, and Jane is loathe to dictate who can review what book. For which, of course, I’m incredibly grateful. And when I’m motivated to review a book, I love reading what others have to say about it, not only among commenters and other reviewers here, but all over blogland, too. Although I can see where some readers might not dig the DA dueling reviews.
On a somewhat related note, I’m constantly amazed at how Jane, Jayne, Jia, Jan, and Janine can write so many thoughtful reviews. I struggle to get one done a week, and IIRC, DA published about the same number of reviews in March that AAR did, with far fewer reviewers.
This is the perfect review! ;> I am rereading Ivory now because of it.
“I was just telling the others that a couple of the books released this month have made romance new and exciting to me again. We speak of the Golden Age of Romance, of Putneys and Gaffneys and Ivorys as if it's something we'll never see again. Your book makes me think we're wrong.”
To see the names Putney, Gaffney, and Ivory invoked in a review is very, very exciting. I appreciate the dueling reviews and indeed all of the content at Dear Author.
Thanks for the review, Jan(sp).
I’m all for seeing different viewpoints. Yes, there are many other books out there, so what? If they all read the book and want to take the time to write thoughtfully about it I, for one, am grateful.
I don’t read many historicals any longer, so it’s not a title I’m necessarily all hot to have.
This last review definitely made me take notice, not just because the grade was different but because of the mention of Putney, who has written one of my 4 have-to-take-with-me-wherever-I-go books. Matter of fact I brought these 4 books with me when I moved to the U.S. 10 years ago (S. Brown Another Dawn, K. Robards One Summer, T. Weir One Fine Day and M.J. Putney The Rake and the Reformer).
Any title that is compared favorably to Putney goes on my radar.
Complaining that everyone in the blogosphere is talking about and reviewing a book is basically complaining that an author has effective publicity and a publisher who believes in her. What, you want her to suffer in obscurity and never earn back her advance?
I do like getting multiple perspectives of a book, although I think it works better when reviewers discuss it as opposed to writing several letters. Or a podcast….
I’ve been really interested in this book and I’ve appreciated the multiple points of view that the three reviewers have provided. On the other hand, 4 posts on one author in 8 days does feel a bit like overkill. I agree that the Duelling Review format or a Roundtable with multiple reviewers would be the way to go the next time you have a book with such high interest.
On to the book itself, I haven’t read it yet because I’ve been afraid my take will be more like Jane and Janet’s than Jan’s. I will definitely read it (the three reviews here have convinced me), and I was always planning to buy it because you have to support the effort. Where is the ebook, though? Anyway, I’m Indian, I’ve done a lot of research and writing on colonial India, and I tend to find romances set in India don’t ring quite true. And they’re never about romance between Indians, always about Europeans or Americans and Anglo-Indians (except for that recent book, Sunburst something, which failed the authenticity test).
BUT (yes, I have a point), one thing the many many reviews of this book have made me realize is that I’m probably using the wrong yardstick to think about it. The author said in her SB interview that she had always been fascinated by British India, and she went on to talk about how interesting she found 19th century Britain. That suggests to me that her focus is on the British in India, not on Indians under the British, and therefore the tropes Jane and Janet found problematic are more understandable. She’s following Forster and Paul Scott, not Tagore and Rushdie. In fact, the triangle in Duke of Shadows recalls the triangles in Forster’s and Scott’s novels of India (Indian Muslim/Anglo-Indian, newly arrived and idealistic Englishwoman, obtuse or downright villainous English public servant). And I’m not going to knock a debut novel for not being as good as those two!
Sorry to ramble, I’ve been thinking about this for the last week and haven’t known exactly which review to append it to.
Sunita, this is definitely more than focused on the British. It is, in fact, focused on the couple involved to the exclusion of pretty much all else. This didn’t bother me. I wanted the couple front and center and didn’t care about the rest. I love novels about India, by a wide variety of authors. But this one is a novel about a relationship that everything else pales next to.
When reading it I thought it was appropriate because the book is told from a close third person point of view, mainly from the heroine’s. She’s interested in the new culture, of course, but the hero is what’s front and center in her mind. She is simply drawn to him that much. The book’s focus then is the heroine’s, and it’s one that makes sense in light of who she is.
I would bet though that people reading the book with raised expectations might not like it as much as I did, who had none.
I enjoyed your review. I agree with your review. I too read this book in two days amongst work, family visiting, etc. I was like a little closet reader! I purchased one for myself and a girlfriend – I gave the book to her on Wednesday at lunch and we had lunch on Friday and she said “how far along are you?” I looked down and said softly, “uh, I finished it last night.” I won’t repeat what she said..
If someone I really respect had not recommended this book I would never have read it – something about judging a book by its cover. I think you said it best “the paragraph melted me.” This book melted me. So very well done.
By the by, I don’t mind the multiple reviews, even if they agree, because there are times when you get a perspective that you had not thought of. Truthfully, they may agree, but they all have something different and interesting to say. Also when a new author comes out with a book that is way beyond “this good” you cannot help but have everyone looking at it – sometimes that needs to be taken into consideration too.
GrowlyCub, what makes this author comparable to those giants for me is the way she wields words. There are a lot of good romance authors and most write decent prose, with some taking it up a notch to adding in great dialogue and wit. But there are, in my opinion, few who pay such loving attention to the words themselves as my favorite Golden Age authors, successfully at least.
This reminds me of the essay on style that Janine wrote several months ago, in which she wrote of the joy of reading authors whose prose sings. I found that in this book.
I’m not saying that the author feels like she must write a pretty turn of phrase. I hate writers like that. But instead, the prose felt like it flowed naturally from her pen in startling and exciting ways, and she wielded it to create some wonderfully tight characters and scenes.
As I mentioned in the review, this attention to detail wasn’t paid to characters like the villain. There is room for improvement. But I see her as quite capable of reaching the heights of the pantheon.
ref: comment #1: I much prefer having multiple reviews than one or a few, especially if the reviewers had strong feelings (either way) rather than indifference. And I prefer individual reviews to discussion, because it is moe likely to reflect the reviewers’ true evaluation – in a discussion, things often get watered down or too wordy by participants’ efforts to agree with each other or give more explanation of what they meant by a certain comment.
and, to state the obvious –
1.post titles are self-explanatoey, if someone doesn’t want to read they are free to skip
2. this is the j-readers site. they can do whatever they want with it. the beauty of the blogosphere is that people who have a different approach can easily start their own. and i bet the j-ladies would even go visit such sites.
sunita: i just posted about this kind (sorta) of issues on my blog!
I posted most of this at AAR, but I wanted to weigh in here too; I hope that’s okay. I managed to set aside the preconceptions and just read the book this weekend. I had mixed feelings, although on balance I enjoyed it and will definitely read Duran’s next book.
First, the criticisms: I thought the London section was much more effective and engaging than the India section. Even apart from my own problem of bringing too much background to the India section, I just didn’t think it was well executed. There were myriad little errors and odd word usages that would pull me out of the story (e.g., Sir Metcalfe and Lady Metcalfe). The pacing was uneven and the landscape seemed weirdly underpopulated for India (although the physical descriptions were excellent). The characters (especially the Indian ones) seemed more Bollywood historical than authentically historical, which would be fine if the book were lighthearted, but given the topic and the hero and heroine, I found the occasional ditsiness of characters jarring. I also thought that the British were too uniformly over-the-top racist, and there was none of the well-meaning cultural obliviousness that characterized a lot of the more admirable Brits of the time.
That said, there were a lot of things to like about the book. I thought the romance, as opposed to the context, was wonderful. Their attraction to each other really shone through, and even when I wasn’t sure *why* Julian was attracted to Emmaline, the prose made me buy it at the time it was happening. I actually *read* the sex scenes rather than skimming them because they were so well integrated and so revealing of the characters. I could have done without the villain/treason subplot; the hero and heroine had enough going against them without that, and the villain was awfully cartoonish.
For a first book, this is a great effort and the strength of the romance makes me think that the author has a lot of talent that will continue to develop. My sense was that her ability to understand and portray the historical context was not as good as her talent for evoking physical attributes of a place, e.g., these people didn’t behave like those I’ve read about from the period, or like those featured in novels of the time. But the sights and sounds of India and London were beautifully rendered.
Note to Maya: I thought Duran did a really good job of avoiding the pitfalls you discussed in your blog post. My problem was not that her characters seemed un-Indian, but that they seemed too 20th century Indian. Even some the Hindi phrases (which were very accurate) seemed a bit modern in their slang. Those people would not have talked like that, even informally, in the 19th century, IMO. The character of Kavita in particular seemed like a filmi princess rather than a real one.
I loved this particular review because it sums up so well everything I loved about this book. And it’s a great book. I haven’t collected a lot of keepers so far this year, but this is so one of them.
Coming in late, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book with its fresh setting and excellent characterization. I also enjoyed reading the three different reviews of one book at Dear Author. While it might not be interesting for every book, I think it was definitely a bonus to be able to have three of this book.