Book Reviews Guest Dare

Guest Dare: The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

Welcome to guest dare! For those new to the feature, our Guest Dare is a monthly endeavor in which we invite an unsuspecting victim to read a book totally outside of their comfort zone. You can read all previous Dare posts HERE.

This month’s victim is Jeff – one of the minds behind the awesomeness that is Alert Nerd and the dude who talks about geeky things at Jefferson Stolarship. When we invited Jeff for the dare, we just knew he would be reading a Romance Novel. So please, ladies and gents, give it up for Jeff!


Title:The Duke of Shadows

Author: Meredith Duran

Genre: Historical Romance

Publisher: Pocket
Publication Date: March 2008
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin has no interest in courting trouble. But when violence seizes the British colonies, she must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn. In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. When Emma’s life falls into his hands, Julian cannot imagine the lengths he will go to keep her safe — or how love itself will become their greatest danger. A lifetime later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian will finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned . . . and some passions may never die.

Why did we recommend this book: : This is one of Ana’s favorite Romance novels by one of Ana’s favorite romance novel writers.

Jeff’s Review:

When I was younger and more inclined to be glib and cynical, I opined that I could write a historical romance novel pretty easily. I was in college, and I’d just found a bodice-ripper half-hidden under a friend’s bed; of course, wrapped up in my haughty, self-important English major-dom, I mocked her terribly. Romance novels were nothing but insubstantial and overly florid frivolity, I said, and even I could just churn one out if so inclined. My outline involved a chaste yet listless Spanish noblewoman abducted by fierce privateers whose harsh and demanding captain taught her about love and adventure…not in that order. I didn’t dissuade Anna from reading her book, and I ignored the hypocrisy carefully when I cracked open a Star Wars novel later that day. And though I talk a good game, I never did get around to writing that book. Go figure.

It was that incident that I had in mind when Ana and Thea dared me to tackle Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows. Though I’d broadened my horizons since my all-genre-fiction-all-the-time period, I wasn’t sure that my forays into ‘chick lit’ had really prepared me for what I was about to read. I’m not one to back down from a dare, but I kind of dreaded the promise of purple prose and quivering members. I forgot for a moment that I’m an unabashed consumer of melodrama.

I couldn’t put The Duke of Shadows down. I devoured it greedily and in large, uncouth bites. Like its heroine, it seems unassuming at first blush, but has something incredibly compelling hidden underneath its exterior. So compelling that I found myself talking to the book in the way that some people shout at the victims in slasher flicks. You know, “Don’t run UP THE STAIRS!” It hit me when heroine Emma was reunited with the titular shadowy duke after a four year absence and they both overreacted in the exact wrong way. I sat bolt upright in my comfy reading chair and informed Emma and Julian both that Marcus – the evil Viscount – had deceived them both.

Does The Duke of Shadows adhere to the conceits of the genre? Well, of course it does. The romance between the headstrong, artistic Emma and brooding, conflicted Julian is so unrealistic that it might as well be supernatural. Julian is practically perfect in every way – breathtakingly beautiful, absurdly wealthy, erudite, compassionate and a master marksman. Emma is a rich, headstrong tragic heiress who is herself unconventionally beautiful and a superbly talented artist. I realize that that’s like complaining that water is wet; we’re dealing with romantic melodrama, so I accept that it’s par for the course. Despite that, their mutual attraction seems real, and their banter organic. The romantic in me roots for them almost immediately, especially in contrast to Marcus, Emma’s racist womanizing bastard of a fiance.

Would I have enjoyed this book if it weren’t for Meredith Duran? I’m not sure. She makes the book move quickly, makes the dialogue not only pop but sound real, and despite being inside her characters’ heads frequently, the voice of the book is efficient and not overburdened with filler adverbs the way this post is. The inside-back-cover bio of Duke describes Duran as a lifelong history buff, and that’s something that definitely shows in the life she’s able to breathe into the setting of the book – colonial India.

The British Raj is the perfect backdrop for exotic romance, especially set as it is against the backdrop of Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. I know the tendency can be to correlate India with outsourced call center reps and their longtime feud with Pakistan and move along, but it is a breathtakingly beautiful country with an exotic mix of old and new, even at the time when The Duke of Shadows takes place; in fact, the division between and admixture of tradition and modernity is a bit sharper because it’s fresher. As a result, the book also has some things to say about nationalism and cultural identity that gave it added depth. Emma, steeped in British court society but too independent to let it govern her thinking, is the perfect point of view character for the story.

I thought that The Duke of Shadows was a great read, and I’m glad that Ana and Thea urged me to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. Am I going to have to clear out room for a ‘Harlequin Shelf’ in my library? I doubt it, honestly, but I’m certainly not going to steer away from a great book that just happens to be a romance again.


Yay, Jeff! We are most delighted that you enjoyed your dare!

Next on the Guest Dare: Peter from Bitterly Books reads Scalped Volume 1

Until next month!

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  • Lustyreader
    February 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    awesome awesome guest post. as much as i love it when ANYONE reads romance as a guest dare outside their comfort zone (i don’t want to sound sexist) i especially love it when a guy does it. great review!

    although i glom historical romance like there’s no tomorrow i haven’t read ms. duran yet *holds wrists out for a slap* i KNOW!

  • Sandy Williams
    February 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Woohoo! I’m of the opinion that Ms. Duran can get ANYONE to enjoy a romance novel. She’s my favorite hist-rom author right now, probably THE reason why I got hooked into this genre a year or so ago.

    Glad you enjoyed her book!

    @LustyReader *slap* Get ye to the book store! 🙂

  • Jessica Andersen
    February 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Jeff said: “I didn’t dissuade Anna from reading her book, and I ignored the hypocrisy carefully when I cracked open a Star Wars novel later that day.”

    LOLOL! Love the dare, love Jeff’s voice, and thoroughly enjoyed the review. More pleez 🙂

  • Angie
    February 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    This review was a delight to read, Jeff. Glad you enjoyed your dare and Ms. Duran’s book!

  • Karenmc
    February 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I’m not surprised, but terribly pleased that Jeff enjoyed The Duke of Shadows. There is much to love about the book. His comment about water being wet is so true, but water quality can vary. Ms. Duran’s work is akin to glacier-fed streams.

    So, would he like to tackle Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart or perhaps Patricia Gaffney’s Wickerly trilogy next?

  • Heloise
    February 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    How fun! Watching a man review a romance novel and appreciate it fully for what it does well is like asking a hetero man what other men are cute in the room and having them treat the subject seriously. Their confidence in themselves just shines through. 🙂

  • Maya M.
    February 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    what an excellent review! you say things with eloquence that were mere blurs in my own mind, as I’ve also read and tremendously enjoyed this story.

    here’s my 2 cents of unsolicited advice: if you like Duran’s complexity and wordsmithing, take a look at Sherry Thomas and Joanna Bourne as well.

    And here’s the million dollar question: If someone liked ‘Duke of Shadows’, what read would you recommend for them in your usual genre?

  • Maya M.
    February 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    and here’s the question I forgot to ask before: you made no comment on the nekked manchest cover art. no thoughts? (yes, it’s a loaded question. why do you ask?)

  • Tiah
    February 24, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    I am loving these reviews from guys reading romance novels. This was a great review, I going to check this one out.

  • Elsewhere — Jefferson Stolarship
    February 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

    […] being blackmailed by me.  Why? Because I’m guest posting on their blog again, this time reviewing a steamy romance novel that I didn’t actually […]

  • Jeff
    February 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Oh wow, comments. Thank you for the kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the review, and even gladder that I haven’t totally embarrassed myself.

    @Karenmc I can’t promise I’ll get back to historical romance right away; my TBR shelf is, just like I’m sure yours is, overburdened. But I’ll definitely take those recommendations into account.

    @Heloise I appreciate the flattery, but I don’t think it’s confidence as much as it is appreciating good entertainment wherever I find it.

    @Maya I don’t know that I have a ‘usual genre’ anymore. I do still tend toward sci-fi and fantasy, though. Jacqueline Carey, if you haven’t read her, is a solid candidate for romance fans. And since I mention Star Wars books, Dark Journey, which is a political drama with a strong love triangle element that stars Princess Leia’s daughter Jaina, is another crossover title that I’d recommend (and one that’s unfairly unpopular with the fanbase, so I’m fomenting controversy).

    As for the “nekkid manchest cover art,”I freely admit it’s not really my thing. Of course, I’m not the target audience, so I can’t scoff at their marketing strategy. One of Emma’s paintings might have made for a striking cover, but they’re a bit bloody and violent, which is (hopefully) not something that puts one in the mood for romance, whereas a nekkid manchest might be.

  • Danielle
    February 25, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    SCALPED.IS.SO.GOOD. Peter, I sincerly hope you love it and, Jeff, kudos to you for not only reading a paranormal romance but carrying it around, glistening abs and all.

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