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I promised to get to this asap, and here it is:P I'm probably not going to get out everything that's on my mind right now (I just finished it about 10mins ago), so don't be surprsied if this is edited 5 times...
I just gotta say - My God... *fans self*. This book was so good.
I don't want to do a synopsis - wahhh... I am so emotionally drained after finishing that book, and I just wanna jump in there and talk about it - so if nobody minds, can y'all just read it yourselves? Here it is in the book database: The Duke of Shadows. At some point, I'm going to try to edit this into some semblance of a good quality review to post with the synopsis, because it really deserves one here. I'm just blabbering impressions right now, but I'll work it into something more polished later.
Anyhoo... This one is definitely going on my keeper shelf, and Meredith Duran is officially on my autobuy list. She's a very gifted writer, and I loved this book. I can't wait to read more from her.
I wouldn't say it's the best I've read this year. But I've read some really great books since January: Outlander, The Spymaster's Lady (probably my favorite so far), Games of Pleasure, and Private Arrangements, just to name a few. This one is right up there with them. Not at all shabby company for a new author and Simon & Schuster contest winner's first effort, methinks. Btw, I love the story behind this: http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/03/28/my-first-sale-by-meredith-duran/
Duke of Shadows is complex, engrossing, highly evocative reading. It's brutal, heartbreaking, very emotional - a real page turner, IMO. I know most of the quibbles that some of the early reviewers seemed to have with it centered around the heroine, Emma. I think the best way to summarize them would be to say that some readers thought she lacked dimension, and that she was hard to identify with. I personally would say that she's complicated. She's difficult to understand, but at least some of it is directly attributable to the fact that she has to contend with such a fabulous hero. Julian is a muffin. He is such an amazing character - and that's not to say he's perfect, because he's not - but he is so overwhelming, like that guy who could just crook his little finger and you turn into a puddle with a pair of eyeballs floating on top. How on earth is any self-respecting author to write a heroine worthy of him? What heroine can really shine on her own with someone like that sucking up all the light? In all of the romances I've ever read, I can't say that I've run across one who I would put with him ahead of Emma though. As hard as she is to understand, she is so tortured, so bruised by her life experiences, I couldn't begrudge her Julian. I was happy for her. I wonder sometimes too, do we tend to overlook just how hard we romance readers are on tortured heroines? Because I think if we put a man in her shoes, he'd have gotten a lot more sympathy than Emma did. She goes through some heavy-duty stuff. Things you'd expect to make a hero seem emotionally remote, brooding - probably a heavy drinker, womanizer, and generally difficult person to always identify with; things that might possibly break the average romance heroine.
In reality, Emma is probably nothing close to being that problematic of a heroine. I think Post Traumatic Stress Disorder probably explains her behavior pretty well. The last couple of ordeals she has to endure before she finally snaps and says she just can't deal with feeling things anymore (and I don't want to post spoilers, so I'll have to be a little vague here), I think would have left me emotionally scarred for life. Part of the problem with her character development though, is that you don't see as much of what's going on inside her head in the second half of the book as you do in the first. And the conflict keeping Julian & Emma from their HEA is external in the first half, internal in the second half - this being the result of all the trauma she suffers along the way - which makes her more difficult to identify with when it's really important. Where her fears and conflicts might come across as the same old trite and worn out conflicts suffered by the stereotypical, stiff-necked, push-pulling heroine, Emma really doesn't deserve to be lumped into that category. That's not who she is, but I do have to allow that there is where some of the weakness in her character development lies, as she's somewhat easy to misunderstand. But ultimately I was able to buy into the justifications for her stubbornness in the second half of the book, and that's what made all of it work for me. She didn't come across to me as wooden or stereotypical in any way. I think she had boundless strength and resilience, but she definitely needed Julian with her to shake her up and make her feel things again. She was so unable to forgive herself for certain things, she just couldn't believe that Julian could either. Some people may not be able to understand her to that extent; certainly Ms. Duran gives you the very barest minimum of what you need for it, but I saw very subtle things that kept me hanging in there with Emma and hoping that she'd see she held the key to her HEA - she just needed to be strong enough to use it. She needed to realize that Julian would still want her the way she was when he finally finds her in London. She says something to that effect very near the end of the book, and I hope nobody misses it, because I think it's integral to understanding her.
I also liked the way that Duran makes use of Emma being an artist. The descriptions of her obsession with painting and how she perceives the world - through the eyes of an artist - are very evocative. And there is such a strong sense of place to the portions of the story set in India - the India Emma sees. The people (good & bad) places, textures & colors, smells, clothing - you name it - are all so very vibrant and alive because you can feel Emma's perceptions of them. London, by contrast, is very one-dimensional and gray, but very much in keeping with the way the story (and Emma) evolves. It reflects so well how her experiences in India have altered her; the loss of her own vibrant qualities, and Julian's grief & anger over that loss. The painting she does of him when she first returns from India, and the changes she makes to it when she starts to bloom again, because of him - so allegorical.
My own personal big quibble with the book is the villain - and he's a nasty little bugger. I think Marcus does do his part to enrich the story, but overall, he's just a little too much the cardboard cutout villain. Thankfully he doesn't outrageously muck up the last half of the book with the cartoon bad guy routine, since he's not strongly present in the last half until very near the end. I can sort of see his role there as a very convenient external conflict thrown in at the last minute to kick the tension up a notch, but at the same time, I would have been deeply disappointed had there not been some very decisive closure where he was concerned. I think he needed a more forceful come-uppance than just having the snot kicked out of him by the hero - even though that was pretty gratifying as well:P
Anyhoo, I highly recommend Duke of Shadows. Is it on my top 5 all time favorites list? No, but it's still damn good:P Is it worth buying a new copy as opposed to waiting for a WL offer? Yes - most definitely, or at least it was to me:)
Last Edited on: 4/25/08 7:33 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Wow, Kim. I am definitely going to get this book. In fact I think I will go to store tomorrow and buy it new. This being the author’s first book, I want to support her. I also read the story about how this came about for her. Wonderful story.
There are 3 reviews at Dear Author, but this is the one that best captures my own impressions of it (by Jan): http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/04/04/review-the-duke-of-shadows-by-meredith-duran-2/
This part (& the accompanying excerpt) especially gets a wink & a nod from me...
"For once in a romance it wasn’t a question of loving the hero or heroine, but of loving them together. Of loving their journey to get to know one another, watching them change subtly, slowly, realistically, inevitably. You wrote it with a clarity that on occasion stunned me and had me reading sections over and over.
The first love scene between them opened up the heroine to us even as the hero did the same. Everyone should read this love scene, if they want to know how to do one the right way. It’s that good. From just its beginning paragraph we given so much of Emma’s thoughts and feelings. Her reactions to the unknown say so much about her."
That really says it all right there - and incidentally, that's the first time I've seen someone articulate this unspoken impression I've always had about Judith Ivory's characters as well. It's not a question of whether or not I loved the hero or the heroine - although this hero definitely got my motor running:P - I really loved them together. They had such great chemistry as a couple. And as great as he is, Julian is still somehow more with Emma than he is without her. They are so made for each other. And I don't remember now what review mentioned the first half being slow, but I positively raced through it.
Just everybody remember that this is turning out to be one of those love it or hate it books. Or maybe it's not quite that extreme, but it's fascinating to me how one person will adore it, and the next will struggle to even get to the halfway point with it. And you can't just average that out and assume that means that it's somewhere in between either, because it's not even close to being a C grade, average, so-so book, IMO. There's so much symbolism used throughout the story - and I wish I had the words to articulate it better, but I just don't - my feeling is that it's an epic story told on a smaller scale. So much of what's being said and done has a deeper meaning, and I'm sure it loses a little to lot in translation - depending on a lot of factors. If I had a suggestion to offer to anyone who plans to read it and wants to get the most out of it, I'd suggest they try to be as attentive to every scene and line of dialogue as they can. I'd say don't even try to read it when there are distractions present. It's the book you read (ack!) in the tub (can't believe I said that:P) or a quiet room, and after you've sent the hubby off somewhere and banished the kids outdoors.
Last Edited on: 4/26/08 12:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
You've convinced me. Sounds like just the sort of complicated "tortured" characters I like. Put it on my WL; unfortunately I'm #42. Maybe if I can ever get my TBR under control, I'll order it from amazon.