I noted in the author's bio that she's a doctoral student in cultural anthropology, and I think it showed in her portrayal of the 1857 Sepoy War, and how she demonstrates the war's effect on both the Indians and the British colonialists. There's another level of tension going on in the two characters themselves, both between them and society, and between themselves: Emmaline is an artist who chafes at the strictures placed on women, who doesn't fit in England and doesn't fit in staid British Indian society either, and Julian is the mixed-race heir to a dukedom who fits nowhere and is trying to make his own place in the world, formulate his own identity. (Cue "torn between two worlds!" blurb.) I really loved the evolution of their relationship, and especially the way Emmaline has to struggle to see the Indian point of view. I loved that the war tore them apart, leaving them both devastated and angry, and that it took time for them to reestablish their relationship. I loved that both of them had terrible, terrible angst and the best remedy for it was each other. I loved that Julian was a good guy, who never tried to trick or take advantage of Emmaline, and that Emmaline felt what she felt and was whom she was. I also liked that Emmaline's cousin, in the second half, was a real confidant and friend to her, a nuanced character, not just the usual "flighty chaperone" type.
Things I didn't like as much: yet another Evil Plot related to Evil Person Who Is Easy To Identify. Related to that, I would have liked to see a bit more prejudice directed at Julian--a lot of what we see comes from Evil Person, which doesn't seem realistic to me. It's true that being heir to a dukedom would counterbalance, but I still imagined a lot more casual racism from other peers and talking about the issue in oblique ways, which would lead to more juicy plot tension. Ironically, there's more of the British characters taking issue with him being part Indian in the first half, which takes place in India, than when Julian's in London. To me, that made the first half more uniquely interesting than the second, which had a more standard plot wrapping the tension-filled reunion of Julian with Emmaline.
I haven't enjoyed a new author this much in a while. I would buy another Duran book in a heartbeat. I hope she writes more!