The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
Particulars: Historical romance, 2008, Pocket, Out of Print, Available digitally
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: When this book was first released, everybody and their dead grandmother seemed to be reading it. Dear Author even got a wee bit of blowback for posting three separate reviews for it. I had nothing better to be annoyed about at the time, so basically dug in my heels, resisting. Because that is what Wendy does when everybody is talking about the exact. same. book. for what seems like weeks on end. At least until I went to RWA 2008 (Washington DC?) and got a copy for free - which has been languishing in my TBR ever since.
The Review: Emmaline Martin was sailing to India with her parents to reunite with her betrothed when tragedy strikes. There's a shipwreck, her parents die, but Emma miraculously lives. Of course her rescue causes quite the gossip because she was, after all, rescued by.....men! Surely she must have been ravished or compromised and thoroughly ruined. Besides the speculation regarding her person, there are numerous rumors that people are delighted to share with her regarding her fiancé's various paramours. Between the grief she feels for her parents, the uncertainty of finding herself in such a foreign land (India), and her fiancé being an asshole? She meets Julian Sinclair, the Duke of Auburn.
Julian is also not immune to gossip and scandal. He's part Indian, which naturally causes all sorts of talk among the British occupiers in that country. Julian also feels, quite strongly, that mutiny may be at hand among the Indian troops. Naturally though, the British occupiers are paying him no mind, and there is rampant speculation that Julian cannot be trusted.
This was a tale of two books for me. The first half (Part I), which takes place entirely in India is really the money shot. It's fantastic. The author does a great job of showing the country through the eyes of her unsettled, grieving heroine, painting a portrait that shows the reader how Emma could, on one hand, be captivated by India, but also uncertain of her. This is also where the real meat and potatoes of the romance lies. Julian and Emma being thrown together, and literally fleeing for their lives once Julian's predictions come to pass.
The author gives us a romance between two outsiders. Julian's struggles and the sheer amount of assholery he has to put up with given his "mixed" bloodlines is handled deftly. Emma is an proper heiress, from a good family, who finds herself thrust into the spotlight at a time when she should be allowed to lock herself away and grieve. As the reader, you want these two people to get together, if only for the fact that you know they're perfect for each other.
Where the book faltered for me was in Part II - once the story leaves India and moves back to England. Frankly, this whole portion of the story hinges on improbability. Emma is an heiress, a notorious one who survived a shipwreck, escapes India, and has a broken engagement to boot. Julian is not only a bloody Duke - he's a bloody Duke who is part-Indian that people love to gossip about! How these two could go three years (three years!!!!!) without having any contact or inkling about the other one is just patently absurd. Honestly the only thing keeping them apart during this time is Emma's stupid pride, which was just annoying enough to, well - annoy me. And Julian? It doesn't say much for his intelligence and powers of deductive reasoning that he doesn't ferret out the truth about Emma once they both land in England. It takes a chance encounter for them to come face-to-face again.
And by this point I started to lose interest. Emma's haunted by what happened in India. Emma paints some pictures. Someone is out to silence Emma permanently. Yada, yada, yada.
Which makes it sound like I didn't enjoy this book. I did. The first half is really great and Duran's prose is flat-out lovely (coupled with the fact that this was her debut - wow!). I just spent the entire second half wishing things had taken a different path. Like, oh, that the couple never left India at all and that story started, stayed, and finished there.
Final Grade = B