Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-6703-5
Historical Romance, 2008
Meredith Duran’s debut historical romance The Duke of Shadows is an interesting one, since the first half in set in India just as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 breaks out. The second half in set in a more familiar place, England.
Emmaline Martin’s trip to India can’t be considered boring since the ship she was on went under and she was the sole survivor, drifting on a plank while telling herself that she would never let go – “Near, far, wherever you are!I believe that my heart will go on…”; admit it, you have that song in your head too – until she was rescued by a passing ship and deposited to her fiancé Marcus Lindley. He’s more concerned about getting his image tainted by the fact that his future wife may not be a virgin anymore. Emma also quickly learns that he only wants her money and he’s this close to being a cartoon character. Luckily for her, Marcus’ cousin, Julian Sinclair, is there to provide some distraction. Julian, what with him being half-Indian, may be a Marquess but he’s also a man with local connections. However, the poor dear doesn’t really fit in any of his two worlds as none willingly accepts him. The Sepoy Mutiny cuts short any opportunity for idyllic dallying, however.
I’m torn about The Duke of Shadows. On one hand, I appreciate Ms Duran’s attempts to present a slice of history that is rarely covered in historical romances. She has done her research and attempted to integrate them into the story smoothly and to a degree she has succeeded here. However, Ms Duran largely glosses over Emma’s experience during the chaos or how she finds her way eventually back to England just like how she also glossed over Emma’s shipwreck experience and finding her way to India. As a result, I find myself thinking that I’m missing out on what could have been a fabulous epic drama of courage and tragedy and what-not.
Also, too little information on Emma’s background is provided, which makes it rather difficult for me to reconcile Emma’s tough girl personality with her English society lady character. She’s an artist, so maybe she’s unconventional that way, perhaps. Or maybe her time being adrift at sea has made her a tougher woman. I can only guess here. It is nice that Emma is tough and doesn’t let herself be bullied by Marcus, but at the same time, without any insight as to how she turns out to think and feel the way she does, she sometimes comes off like a modern-day lady transported to 1857 India.
Julian is a nice character, what with him being angst-ridden but not going overboard with the pity party. But the events in India prevent any credible romance from developing, what with these people being too busy trying not to get killed and all, and therefore it is unfortunate that the England part of the story sees Julian trying to repair a lost love because my reaction is like, “Love? Wait, that is supposed to be true love?” Nonetheless, Emma’s attempts to cope with the aftermath of her experiences in India are poignant and even heartbreakingly depicted while Julian really shines here as someone who is trying to put back together something precious that he has thought he’d lost.
I can only conclude that The Duke of Shadows is probably a story that is too ambitious to be contained by its current word count because this story needs an epic scope – or at least the length of a typical MM Kaye novel – to do its characters and their emotions justice. Imagine my disappointment when, upon being so caught up in Emma’s plight in India, I find the story suddenly moving to England by the next chapter. Sigh. While I have a pleasant time being entertained by this one, I also can’t help feeling that this story could have been so much more than what it currently is.