Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Bound By Your Touch," by Meredith Duran

The Chick: Lydia Boyce. Resigned to being a spinster, she's satisfied supporting her father's academic work in Egypt and arranging to sell the artefacts he brings over.
The Rub: When the degenerate Viscount Sanburne buys a forgery he claims was shipped by her father, she and Sanburne have to work together to clear her father's name.
Dream Casting: Emily Blunt.

The Dude: James Dunham, Viscount Sanburne. Ever since his father allowed his sister to be shut away in a madhouse, James has dedicated his life to embarrassing and spiting his father.
The Rub: While he gradually grows to like Lydia rather a lot during their investigation, he cannot comprehend her devotion to her own father, when all evidence points towards his perfidy.
Dream Casting: Ryan Kwanten.

The Plot:

Lydia: I call this Meeting to benefit my Illustrious Father to order!

James: And I am interrupting this Meeting with a fabulously expensive artefact in order to spite my Horrendous Father!

Lydia: It's a fake.

James: What?

Moreland, James' Dad: LOL, owned.

James: Huh, that's funny, seeing as YOUR dad brought in the artefact!

Lydia: My dad's not a fraud!

James: My sister's not crazy!

Lydia: You're not devilishly attractive!

James: You're not sexy!

Lydia's Dad: Er, I kinda am a fraud.

James' Sister: Totally crazy. CRAZY not to stay in this delightfully luxurious madhouse, that is!

James: ...

Lydia: ...

James: Who am I kidding, you're totally superhawt! Let's go to Canada!

Lydia: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Repressed Bluestocking

1 Bad Boy Rake with a Sad Past

1 Very Bad Parent

1 Neglectful But Not Totally Bad Parent

1 Drunk-Ass Fake Fiancee

1 Junkie Sequel-Baiting BFF

1 Bitchy Sister

1 Crazy Sister

1 Canadian Honeymoon

The Word: I was both excited and bit timid about reading Meredith Duran's Bound By Your Touch - excited because I'd met Duran in person at RWA and had a lovely time, and also because the reviews for her books have been out of this world, nearly across the board. My timidity sprang from the same reasons - what if I didn't like it?

Well, finally I bit the bullet, ending up with a little bit of both. Ultimately, I liked the novel, very much - but I didn't love it.

The novel opens on a rather unnecessary prologue in which Lydia Boyce declares her love to a young admirer, George, only to learn he'd already proposed to her younger sister Sophie. Ouch. Four years later, Lydia is still unmarried and firmly believed to be on the shelf. She gets her kicks from handling her father's business in England while he conducts research and looks for artefacts in Egypt.

She's hosting a meeting with some members of the Egypt Exploration Fund, hoping to secure donations to aid her father's research, when Viscount Sanburne, carelessly dressed and coming down from a truly epic high after a drug-fueled party, bursts in and commands attention for the rare Egyptian artefact he's recently purchased. Sanburne's father, Earl Moreland, is a member of the EEF, and Sanburne hopes to rub his sire's upturned nose in the fact that he's bought a rarity out from under him.

Lydia's outraged by Sanburne's hijacking of her meeting, but her unorthodox education comes to her rescue when she identifies the artefact as a fraud, and swiftly sucks all the air out of Sanburne's sails. Her victory is short-lived, however. A humiliated Sanburne tracks down the man he bought it from and discovers the shipments had been mixed up: the forgery he'd brought to the meeting had originally come to England in a shipment from Mr. Henry Boyce - Lydia's father.

For several years, James, Viscount Sanburne has been at war with his father, and every scandal he creates, every drunken debacle he orchestrates, has been an arrow aimed at his father's reputation. When James' battered sister Stella murdered her abusive monster of a husband, Moreland had her confined to a madhouse - to protect his political reputation, James thinks. Blaming his father's dependence on social standing for his sister's confinement, he's dedicated his life to destroying the family name his father apparently cherishes more than his actual family.

At first, James suspects that Moreland, Mr. Boyce, and Lydia may have conspired together to bring him a fraud in order to publicly shame him, and he confronts Lydia at a party, to try and make her confess. Lydia is horrified by his accusations and at the danger to her father's good name should James' theories go public. When she discovers that the fraud did originate from her father's shipment, she decides to enlist James' aid to discover who sabotaged her father's shipment and why. She cannot trust anyone else to help her and keep quiet, and she hopes the novelty will amuse James enough to agree.

At first that is the precise reason why James agrees to help - amusement. His life of whoring and drinking and carousing has become agonizing of late, and he wonders if perhaps he's taken the rake charade too far to become anyone different. He's still tormented by the idea that he's partially responsible for his sister's confinement, and despises his helplessness in rectifying her situation.

His cynicism is also piqued by Lydia's single-minded faith in her father - even when more and more evidence arises that suggests he's not as innocent as she believes. At first, her optimism angers him and he wants to prove her father is just as selfish as his own - and his hero's journey in Bound By Your Touch is how he eventually moves from disdaining her blind trust to wanting to protect it, and her, from becoming as damaged as he is.

Along with themes of faith and trust, repression and identity are also addressed, particularly in Lydia's character. Her sister Sophie, now married to George, has turned into a raving bitch who continually reprimands Lydia's bluestocking behaviour and mocks her spinster status - despite the fact that her own marriage is not a happy one. In the social world her prettier sisters comfortably inhabit, Lydia's forced to play along with society's idea of the quiet, retiring spinster. Her behaviour must remain carefully controlled - she cannot shame her politically minded brother-in-law (who foots most of the family bills), or jeopardize her younger unmarried sister's prospects.

Lydia's work with her father's business is the only outlet in which she can exercise her independence, and if it goes belly-up, she'll become spinster by nature as well as in name. In this way, James and Lydia are alike - both inhabiting roles and identities that don't quite fit, and both terrified that one day they'll wake up unable to escape the rake and the spinster they've become.

Throughout the novel, however, they find freedom in each other. When they first meet, their Rake and Spinster masks are fixed firmly in place, but as they continue to work together, each notices the tiny cracks in the other's facade. James, in particular, wants to believe he's got Lydia pegged, and is continually surprised when she doesn't meet his expectations. Lydia, meanwhile, is envious of James' position and status and the freedom it supposedly gives him, until she slowly discovers how trapped he is, in a prison of his own making.

Meredith Duran's characterization is subtle and powerful, her plotting a satisfying, slow burn. The only major problem I had with the novel was the writing style - not because it was bad, or unoriginal. Quite the opposite, really. Duran writes with unique and lyrical description, ignoring the time-honoured mentions of throbbing manhoods and sapphire eyes.

Unfortunately, at times it comes across as too ornate and a little overdescriptive - and I felt distanced from the romance. Like when you stare at a carving and your eye is so caught by all the curlicues and spiraling lines and intricate patterns that you don't see the bigger picture (at least right away), I felt the description of a character's emotions during a scene diverted my attention from the actual emotional heart of the scene.

Much like my reaction to Sherry Thomas' Private Arrangements, I appreciated and enjoyed this book but failed to emotionally engage with it. Perhaps this reaction will change with Duran's next books. Bound By Your Touch is good enough to land on my Keeper Shelf so a re-read when I'm older may improve my opinion. Goodness knows, reading Sherry Thomas' later novels made me a fan easily enough.


  1. I enjoyed this one for the most part. Your reasons for not outright loving it resonate though. Great review, I liked reading it and remembering what I liked or didn't like about the book.

  2. Anonymous7:46 PM

    I got bogged down in this one, probably mainly because I've developed a weird allergy to archeologically-related plots. Keep meaning to try again, because I admired the first half of Duke o Shadows so much. And I have the second one to read too. -- willaful

  3. Anonymous2:41 PM

    This is actually probably my favorite or second favorite romance of all time (possibly second only to Kinsale's Flowers in the Storm). I'm sorry you didn't adore it the way I did, but our criteria were a little different, I guess. I loved the tangible beauty of Duran's turns of phrase and the charm that Sanburne exudes. The wit in the conversations had me grinning and laughing outright, and I empathized so much with Lydia.

    I'm glad you at least liked it though.

  4. I just finished this one. I'd had it for ages and like you, was a bit scared to read it for fear I wouldn't love it as much as everyone else did. (peer pressure alive an well I guess!!)

    Also like you, I enjoyed it but didn't love it and probably for similar reasons although I haven't taken the time to analyse them.

    (Like willaful I adored the first half of Duke of Shadows and felt the second half became a bit, well, less.)

    Funnily enough, I am now reading Written on your Skin (and I've JUST NOW understood the title!! Duh!) and I am enjoying this one much much more. It seems that most reviews I have read felt that BBYT was the better book but I think (with 50 pages to go) that WOYS is the A here - at least, so far. I am feeling a greater connection to the characters and am more deeply enmeshed in the story.

    I do find that Ms. Duran's writing is "dense" in the sense of a rich dessert (but not stodgy). It is be glorious but it takes some effort and concentration - I don't find that it can be skimmed effectively (and I'm a dreadful skimmer usually) - the nuance in the language is it's own reward but it is not a light and fluffy chocolate mousse type read. (hope that makes sense! *g*)

    PS - I'm not sure I can agree with Ryan Kwanten as Sanburne - he will forever be (to me) Vinny from Home & Away (an appalling Australian soapie - although terribly long running in the fashion of Neighbours, Coronation Street etc)- and with a terrible mullet to top it off!!

  5. After I read this, I cried. Meredith has a wonderful way with words. Loved this book like you wouldn't believe.