The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

The Duke of Shadows by Meredith DuranThe Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
Published by Pocket Star on March 25th 2008
Pages: 371
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Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé's betrayal leaves Emma no choice. 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. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous -- and that a single decision can alter one's life forever.

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned...and some passions never die.

Expansive, sweeping and so epic that I needed to catch my breath after book 1 ended. Meredith Duran’s vibrant and vivid descriptions not only lent justice to the complex period where the British Raj was about to break apart but gave it a sheen through a romance that seemed doomed from the start.

That fractured sense of history during the Sepoy mutiny is mirrored in her equally elusive protagonists: Julian Sinclair who has had to fight the prejudice against his mixed heritage and Emma Martin, for whom dire circumstances had set her aside from the proper behavioural protocols to forge her own way in a society built on judgement and precepts. Told in 2 parts, their story spans 4 tumultuous years, from the brilliant beginnings in India to the more predictable end in Victorian London.

Book 1 characterised them perfectly, but book 2 seemed more disjointed than book 1, characterising 2 changed people, to the extent I actually wondered if I was reading about the same protagonists that captured my heart in the first place.

Still, there was so much I loved about Emma’s unyielding character, as Ms Duran’s narrative seemed to favour unravelling her more than Julian, whom I liked a lot less for that same reason. I’d hoped she could have clarified the man he really was as opposed to the man he was perceived to be (especially on the grounds of fidelity), but that never really happened, leaving us to guess as what he’d become after the 4 years apart. If I thought Julian absolutely stellar in part 1, he seemed to flatten and diminish in the second part, reduced to a bit role of a man who only fought against Emma’s resistance using flippancy and crudeness – just like the rake people say he is, without authorial correction of the reader’s perception of him. Despite this, I can’t think of a couple more suited to each other than Julian and Emma, where the weight of their history actually gave weight to their believability, as much as I loved them together in book 1 a lot more than the ‘changed’ people they were in book 2.

But what does one say about a book where the first part – indelibly imprinted in my mind – so greatly overshadows the distasteful second? Apart from trying to reason out the number of stars I should be giving the book, I’m still not too sure.