2008, European Historical Romance (1840s [Victorian] England)
Five Star, $25.95, 385 pages, Amazon ASIN 1594146977
Lord of Shadows is a mass of contradictions. The plot of the story is certainly exciting enough, and the characters are well-fleshed. Yet the heroine bugged me, and the writing often felt awkward enough to pull me out of the book. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed.
Devlin Carmichael, Marquess of Headleymoor, leads a double life. Not only is his father a duke, but his mother is a princess of Zaranbad, a tiny Christian country neighboring India. Feeling like he doesn’t belong to either country, Devlin is both a British spy and, under the guise of Ram Dass, bodyguard for the king of Zaranbad. His half-brother Ari, the king of Zaranbad, is trying to forge an alliance with Britain, and it’s Devlin’s job to protect him from the terrorist group trying to attack him.
Caroline Berring is a girl with a predicament: she was born a respectable seven months after her father died, but looks exactly like her mother’s close friend and reputed lover, the Duke of Hartford. She is looked down upon by society, and frankly, she’s tired of it. During a ball, she takes a breather and overhears her friend, the Earl of Nearing, lamenting to an unknown man about her unsuitability for marriage. Hurt by his words, she runs loudly back to the ballroom, alerting Nearing and his friend to her presence. The unknown friend is Devlin, and he vows to help Caroline any way he can. As Ram Dass, he befriended Caroline a few months ago, and now uses this relationship to help Caroline’s situation. Getting into his Ram Dass costume, Devlin chases after Caroline and tells her that the Marquess of Headleymoor is interested in knowing her. After he introduces her to the king and his blind wife Janighar, Caroline becomes the toast of society. She is swept into a world of intrigue and passion as Devlin fights against the terrorist organization and tries to protect her at the same time.
Throughout the story, I couldn’t really feel much for Caroline. She is a perfectly blank slate, with so generic a temperament that she could have complimented any character in the book. She’s a perfect 80’s romance heroine – a not-exactly legitimate, but still gently bred, innocent, bright-eyed, and (of course) flame-colored hair.
I also didn’t like the fact that the author made “Are Ram Dass and Devlin the same person?” such a crucial part of the book. While I did give Caroline credit for figuring out this “big secret” by herself, she had so many intimate scenes with both Devlin and Ram Dass that she should have figured out their connection much, much sooner. Nonetheless, her little internal conflict between Devlin and Ram Dass didn’t fly well with me, especially when she decided that “his lordship is so very different from Ram Dass.” I could accept that she initially didn’t like him because of his arrogant, aloof demeanor, but as the book developed, he showed his true, caring nature so many times. Still, she blindly rejected his concern and affection and kept whining for Ram Dass. Devlin presented a reason for why Caroline might oppose a relationship, but actions speak louder than words, and it was obvious that Devlin didn’t mean what he said!
The chemistry between the main characters sizzled and all was well, until the characters started dissecting their feelings for one another. Whenever Caroline or Devlin felt like doing some soul searching, lame reasoning and unnecessary conflicts abounded, and I ended up gritting my teeth in frustration. When Devlin wasn’t trying to prove how he was unworthy of true love, he was practically perfect – a little stereotypically brooding and macho, but very near perfect. The secondary characters are strong, and I especially enjoyed reading about Janighar, the Zaranbad queen who lost her eyesight protecting her husband. I would have liked even more character development on her part.
The writing is uneven; sometimes a little too straight, with too much telling and not enough left to the imagination. The dialogue can be a little awkward, and some of it rings untrue. At times felt like I my hand was being held tightly and someone was pointing out all the things I should be noting and filing away for later. Other times, the descriptions were lush and beautiful, and I was impressed with how well written that particular section was.
So what I recommend is this: check out Lord of Shadows from the library. Read it for the suspense subplot, for the secondary characters, and for all the times Caroline and Devlin don’t try to reason out their feelings for each other. You might really enjoy it.
-- Emma Leigh
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