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!
Author: Meredith Duran
Genre: Historical Romance
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.
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!