Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: The Duke of Shadows
Author: Meredith Duran
Publication Info: Pocket Books 2008
Genre: Historical: European
Oh, shut up. I can ruminate on whatever the hell I want.
Yeah, but someday you’re going to hog all the bandwidth on the internet.
Coooool. *starts making plans*
What would be the screenplay version of Sarah Reading The Duke of Shadows?
*peeking through fingers* “oh, shit oh shit, oh no….”
*tight sensation in chest at depictions of violence* “fucking hormones….”
*train stops, people get off* “SHIT. That’s my STOP. MOVE IT you door-blocking jackass.”
*peeking through fingers* “Oh, shit oh shit this is not good….”
*trying to stop self from turning pages too quickly* “Slow down, dumbass, the pages aren’t going anywhere.”
So you liked it?
Best historical you’ve read this year?
So what worked for you?
There were so many elements of this book that worked marvelously, like effortless harmony so flush with style that you can’t separate the individual tunes woven together.
You’re a real pain in my ass. I was getting there.
The setting is incredibly vivid, as I was introduced to India during the Empire through Emma’s eyes, and since she is a bit of the stereotypical iconoclastic heroine who doesn’t fit in her own world, her overly modern sensibilities were a clear vehicle through which I, as the reader who knows little of the time period, could approach it. Things that bothered Emma, such as the society within the society, the absurdity of “pretending we’re all in England when we’re not,” the limitations on women, all of it gave me a greater understanding of the location, and the people within it, particularly Julian.
Duran’s use of color and symbolism is particularly deft, and simply marvelous. She references varying shades of color both in the reality of the madness in the Indian mutiny, and in the layers of color in Emma’s paintings which reflect that madness. Moreover, the use of the globe, which is a pivotal scene referenced by several reviewers, was particularly touching to me because it illustrated the dichotomy inherent in Julian: the world is so small it fits under your hand, and it brings them together through chance. But the world is so big that breaking it causes a wide range of rippling repurcussions, both literally and figuratively, and its size can get in the way of them finding each other again until it is almost too late. That scene alone is exquisite in its art.
And speaking of art, Julian was a work thereof. He was a tremendously heroic hero, but Duran crafted him with flaws that almost take the better of him, until his core of nobility pulls him back. He’s a dreamboat.
So what didn’t work for you?
Emma. She was innocent, then angry, then tortured, then angry some more, and much of the time I felt while reading the book that I was missing the key to understanding her. I didn’t actually feel a great deal of empathy for Emma when I probably should have. On one hand, I could certainly understand her reaction to the horrors of what she lived through, but her behavior often seemed superficial and angry - conveniently so for the plot - more than deeply, deeply troubled. From her enigmatic conversations with Julian that didn’t reveal any subtext or sparkle that hadn’t already been covered, to her hanging-by-a-thread sanity that came and went with the needs of the story’s resolution, Emma remained an enigma when I would have wanted to rely on her as a protagonist more.
Further, the villain, Marcus. He’s racist, he’s evil, he’s abusive, and he’s so completely dissolute that while Emma mentions kindnesses in the past, and more honorable behavior when they were younger, I never see even an inkling of it. There were no nuances to his behavior - he was just plain bad. He was two out of three in the Trifecta of Evil Villain, in fact.
Just Plain Bad isn’t always a bad thing - sometimes the polarity of Knowing Your Evil can be reassuring and appropriate in a story. But given the rapidly shifting and ambiguous heroism and justifications of violence in the setting amid uprising, oppression, mutiny and murder, a starkly Just Plain Bad hero was a detriment to the story.
If Julian were a food, what would he be?
Mine. My food in my lunchbox, please. Wait, I didn’t mean for that to sound dirty.
So what’s your grade, and why?
B-. A “B”-range book because I couldn’t put it down once she and Julian were both located in London, and because the depictions of violence were heartbreaking and haunting. Further, because Julian was tortured and noble, and though he didn’t change so much as come to own himself and the power at his disposal in both of the cultures that shaped him, his journey was fascinating. Julian was marvelous, and did things I wished heroes in other historical novels would do, including beating the ever living shit out of someone who truly deserved it, and being vindicated for doing so. YUM.
A minus because the villain was Just So Damn Evil, and because Emma was often wooden, stereotypical, and a cliche of trite composite heroines of historical romance. Part virgin, part iconoclast, educated yet showing an absence of that education at key moments, I didn’t relish the scenes that featured her solely as much as I did any and all that revealed Julian. I’m going to be thinking of the hallway in his home from the end of the book for a long time - a simple description that reveals so much about that character.
Duran’s strengths, however, with development and care, could yield future novels of impeccable quality. The Duke of Shadows was often uneven, but those parts that were marvelous were even better than the heights of other books, which shows the talent Duran can wield, but also highlights the flaws to greater detriment. Either way, I will watch for her next novel.