I recently discovered Duran’s work quite by happenstance. Her more recent book Wicked Becomes You was on a shelf at a writer’s group meeting I attended as a guest where I grabbed it up at $.25. That batch of books was woefully unexciting as I promptly donated several of the ones I finished reading to a friend. This book, however, is not going to be given away. Ever. I immediately set upon a quest to find the author’s other works and, like the book addict I am, went and purchased her other three works. The first she had published is Duke of Shadows.
The story takes us to 1857 India where Emmaline Martin, a wealthy heiress, is to be reunited with her betrothed. Unfortunately, after being the lone survivor of a shipwreck she now finds herself in an unfamiliar land that’s on the verge of revolution with a fiancee she wants nothing to do with. Her story brings us through the battles that rage between her British peers and the subservient Indian people, her survival never assured but aided by Julian Sinclair; future Duke of Indian/British heritage and the cousin of the aforementioned betrothed. Together they escape Dehli as the war erupts then travel through various villages and cities until they are separated. We find these two characters again in England four years after the war; the heroine an aspiring artist working through her post traumatic stress disorder, and the hero now a Duke who thought Miss Martin to be long dead.
An excerpt of Duran’s prose describing a painting Emmaline painted:
The Indian man was sitting cross-legged on the ground, his fingers pursed n meditative stance, thumbs to middle fingers, palms up. There was a look of peace on his face that spoke of transcendence – the sort of enlightenment saints attained through long and painful martyrdoms. His expression could make one yearn to find religion. And so it stood in shocking contrast to the bloody knife stretched across his lap, and the scene of carnage around his seat in the dirt: dead women and children, mutilated civilians and soldiers, Indian and British bodies littered like trash.
Not only did the author do tremendous work on bringing to light the issues of empire building, but also information about Indian culture. Meredith Duran knows how to show all the vital components of a story, the emotionality, the assumptions, without telling. Never could you take it for granted that things would work out between the two characters, nor that the psychological damage done to the heroine through witnessing horrors only voiced through her art would be simply resolved. These are all hallmarks of brilliant writing and excellent story telling while being an exemplary work in a genre that I had thought best for me to let go of.
It was the combination of this book and Wicked Becomes You that prompted me to write my first fan letter to an author. I now have one lone book by Duran that remains unread and it will remain so for a little while yet so I might savor it closer to the date of her next release.