Emmaline Martin is the only passenger rescued from a boat crash that killed her parents. They were traveling to India so Emma could marry her long-standing fiance, but he isn’t as happy to see her as she’d hoped. In fact, most people think she’s been compromised by the men on the fishing boat that saved her life. Sick of society and hating the way that the British in India simply pretend they’re in England, Emma finds herself meeting and sympathizing with Julian Sinclair, the heir to the Duke of Auburn. When the Indians mutiny, Emma and Julian are thrown together, and he is determined to keep her safe. But it isn’t until years later, marred by the tragedies they’ve endured, that they will meet again.
Okay, this is the way to write a romance novel. This book was simply stunning. Everything about it, in fact, was stunning. The book is so dark that it perfectly matches its setting, a rebel India defying the too-confident British occupation. It’s a beginning that neither Julian nor Emma can forget – and honestly, neither will I. The images depicted here are so powerful, Emma’s loss of innocence as she’s forced to keep herself alive is masterfully done. This is not light and fun – this is tragedy depicted as heart-wrenchingly as in any other type of novel. It’s not just romance between two people, it’s a struggle for nationality, for independence, for survival. It’s about figuring out who you are.
The romance is, simply, perfect. The couple are together for such a short time that I think, normally, I would have been perplexed how they managed to fall in love. Somehow Meredith Duran makes it work and work perfectly. The interactions between these two are pitch-perfect, from their frustrated meeting to their exile and fleeing together. And, in London later in the book, I just can’t describe how much I felt for these people. It was like they were real. Julian’s struggle to figure out who he is, rejection from both sides of his heritage, the way he blames himself for everything that’s happened, because he has nothing else to do – for once I understood why a hero was tortured, which believe me, is unusual. Similarly, Emma can’t escape her actions, and though I doubt she’d ever be able to, she can find some sort of peace in knowing why they happened. These characters grow and change throughout the book and it’s all spellbinding.
The writing is probably the most beautiful I’ve ever come across in a romance novel. Duran’s descriptions are gorgeous. I felt like I was in India. I was hanging from that wrecked ship just like Emma was. I could feel her later frenzy to paint. And her use of the title of the book to flesh out Julian’s character with shadows and light and depict the changes in him was really well done. I know there is good, bad, and mediocre in every genre, but this is truly one of the best, and I think it could hold its own against books in a variety of other genres, too.
Meredith Duran has written two more books, I own them, and I can’t quite tell you how glad I am about that. The Duke of Shadows is completely recommended.
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