Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: The Duke of Shadows

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1416567038/themisaofsupe-20
The Book: 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 fiancĂ©'s various paramours.  Between the grief she feels for her parents, the uncertainty of finding herself in such a foreign land (India), and her fiancĂ© 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

15 comments:

Keishon said...

Like I said on Twitter, I enjoyed the first half much better than the second. The suspense was an add on and the the whole misunderstanding/conflict that just felt contrived. The Duke of Shadows had the potential to really stick out but I think the setting was a big turn off for some readers. Still, I enjoyed it. First half rocked and the grade you gave it was mine as well (I think). Great review.

willaful said...

Exactly how I felt. Interestingly, I've seen some people say just the opposite -- didn't like the first half, loved the second. But the disparity almost always comes up in some fashion.

willaful said...

Just commenting again to get follow-ups.

SonomaLass said...

I loved this book, although like others, I was disappointed the last portion. Julian and Emma were still wonderful, unconventional characters, and the scenes with the paintings were incredible, but I agree that the improbability got in the way. Plus I didn't think Duran evoked England as well as she did India, as a place and what it feels like to be there.

Of course I have a long-term relationship with books about colonial India. And I love the breath of fresh, different air that a non-Western setting gives a historical romance -- that's why this book sits with Sherry Thomas's Not Quite a Husband and Carolyn Jewel's Indiscreet.

Amber said...

I have not read anything by Duran that I know of. I hate it when a good book is ruined by flimsy plot devices that destroy your suspension of disbelief. It throws me right out of the book, even if I'd been enjoying it up to that point.

S. said...

I don't think I'd enjoy this book...nor do I want to.
I've read one by her and it was not only a boring read but a hateful one too, because I didn't like the characters. No wish to try her work again....
*****

FD said...

I'm another reader who liked the first half of the book better - that scene on the roof! So evocative.

Christine said...

I love this book. It's been one of my favorite historical romances since I read it in 2008. I plan to do a re-read of it soon, actually. Glad to see it got picked up for this month's theme.

Wendy said...

Keishon: I probably could have dealt with the add-on suspense, but the contrivance of separating the couple just did not work for me. That entire second part took a lot of wind out the sails for me.

Wendy said...

Willaful: Really? Maybe because the English setting is more "comforting" for some readers? The India portions were just evocative for me. Really well done IMHO.

Wendy said...

SonomaLass: That's one thing I really appreciated - that this was Victorian set and the author CONVEYED the Victorian era so well. I get annoyed by vaguely drawn, hey-it's-sorta-like-a-Regency interpretations of the time period. No. Victorian and Regency are not interchangeable.

Wendy said...

Amber: It was disappointing. I was like, really? A big separation? Really? We're going there?

Wendy said...

S.: I'm pretty sure I've got at least one more by her in my TBR. Uh, somewhere. I'm curious to give her another go. See the transition (if any) after having only read her debut.

Wendy said...

FD: The India "stuff" was so great. I thought the author did a good job with the landscape, and dealing with the colonial "stuff" that went along with the British occupying forces. Oh how I wish the whole book had been set there!

Wendy said...

Christine: It was a toss up between this Duran or an Elizabeth Hoyt historical. The back cover blurb for Duran stuck out to me more at that time when I was knee deep in the TBR pile :)