Sunday, November 15, 2009
In a debut romance as passionate and sweeping as the British Empire, Meredith Duran paints a powerful picture of an aristocrat torn between two worlds, an heiress who dares to risk everything...and the love born in fire and darkness that nearly destroys them. From exotic sandstone palaces... Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé's betrayal leaves Emma no choice. 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. To the marble halls of London... In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous -- and that a single decision can alter one's life forever. Destiny follows wherever you run. A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned...and some passions never die.
I really thought I knew what to expect from this book. At first I thought it would be the usual story of a missish and proper English bred Victorian young lady come to India to be married who meets a dashing and disreputable man who unleashes her hidden passions. Ho-hum, been there, done that.
I was wrong - very wrong.
From the beginning, Emmaline Martin is not your average miss. She is a survivor. Outspoken as well as a talented artist, she makes the long journey from England to India with her parents. En route, the steamer sinks and she barely escapes alive but for being rescued by a merchant ship, crewed by Irishmen. Having lost her parents, she arrives in India alone, amidst the scandalous whisperings of the other colonials, "What happened to her?" "Was she abused by her rescuers?" "How unladylike!"
Now an heiress, Emmaline is reunited with her fiance, who turns out to be an ass - and an unfaithful one at that - and is soon disenchanted with what she realizes her life will be like as a proper memsahib in colonial India. Suffering from the recurring nightmares of the shipwreck, she is disillusioned and unhappy with her future. Her fiance, Marcus, makes it plain he only wants her for her money and will continue his philandering ways once they marry. He expects her to act with decorum and grace, just like all the other memsahibs in India. That's just not going to happen to Emma. One night at a ball in her honor, she meets Julian Sinclair alone outside in the garden. He is tall, dark and handsome, the perfect foil to her blonde fiance. He and her fiance are cousins, but Julian is the one to inherit the dukedom of Auburn, even though he is part Indian, much to Marcus' chagrin. Not exactly accepted in England or India due to his heritage - Julian doesn't care. He's rich, clever, powerful and notorious with women - he does what he wants. When he and Emma meet, there is an instant chemistry and understanding between them - kindred spirits. Their paths cross several times again and they warily become friends, though her fiance warns not to have anything to do with him. Julian saves her from a few unfortunate instances and soon she begins to think of him as someone she can trust. Before long, Marcus proves himself to be more than just a jerk, he strikes Emmaline and she breaks the engagement off with him, yet she needs someone that can help her get out of Delhi for rumours and signs are pointing to the imminant possibility that an Indian Mutiny may occur. It is out of the question to remain in the city, she must get to safety somewhere else.
And so, as predicted by Julian, an Indian uprising goes into effect with devastating results. It is horrible. Ms. Duran paints a clear picture of how dreadful it was with all the murdering and death. Julian helps Emma escape and they have a tender night together. He tells her he loves her, but he must go back to Delhi to look after the Indian side of his family. He promises he will return and leaves her in safety at the house of a maharajah. But, it turns out Julian was wrong. Emma must face more tragedy and turmoil, and the nightmares she experienced from her shipwreck are nothing compared to what she now faces while trying to save herself and get out of India. She trusted Julian and believed he'd find her, but alas, he never returns. She must fight and kill and do what she must to survive. Her experience takes it's toll on her for years to come.
We next come upon Emma four years later in England. She is a shell of the person she had once been. Living with her married cousin, who has nursed her and tried to bring her back to reality and peace, Emma pours her heart out in her painting. All her nightmares and memories of the Mutiny are brought to life - horrible, bloody, graphic paintings of scenes she witnessed. Soon, a friend of her cousin's wants to show them in a gallery and sell them for her. The opening night is a sensation. Shown under a pseudonym, no one realizes she is the real painter, except for one. I bet you can guess just who happens to be there that evening - yes. Julian, the Duke of Auburn.
The next part of the book is pushed forward with momentum, I could barely put it down. From the minute Julian realizes that Emma is alive (he had thought her dead) everything changes for the two of them. She is still damaged from her memories and fights him, she cannot stand the idea of seeing him again - falling for him - trusting him - look what happened to her last time she believed and trusted in him. She hurts too much. Of course, they've both been under the wrong impressions - thanks to Marcus, her jerk ex-fiance. I won't go into all the details, but Julian and Emma must join forces to come to terms with their future and find out why and who is trying to kill her as well. Words taken from letters she stole from an English soldier she killed are written in Urdu in her paintings. It turns out they are more incriminating of the Indian Mutiny than anyone realizes. Someone wants her dead.
This was more than just your usual historical romance. It was intense, emotional and stirring. I cared about Emma and Julian and wanted to see them together - but it just wasn't that easy. Emma is a strong heroine, which makes it that much harder to see what happens to her over time with the Mutiny and aftermath and how it nearly kills her and wrecks her. Julian is strong and courageous, but must live with the idea that he couldn't save Emma from what happened - he's not even sure what exactly happened to her! He goes on a tear after seeing her again in London, dropping any sense of decorum - he will fix this and damn the consequences! Finally, when they have their big showdown and explanations, it's cathartic for all, including the reader.
A really good book, it took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, it was so worth it! The locale of India was evocative and their lovemaking is sensual and memorable. The references to Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot "I am, half sick of shadow" were well done and poignant as well, I loved it. I can't wait to read the rest of Ms. Duran's books, this is an author I will watch out for in the future!