Written on Your Skin, by Meredith Duran

Victory! I’ve finished Meredith Duran’s much-touted third novel, Written on Your Skin… and I think I have to read it again. It was just so dense and there was a lot of character work in the text.

What I found fascinating was how despite the headless/shirtless dude on the cover (like Bound By Your Touch before it; what’s up with the decapitation?), this really didn’t feel like a romance novel. I mean, yes, there was romance and a period setting and all of that stuff, but other than the obligatory inclusions, I felt like Duran didn’t use any typical tropes. The way Mina Masters and Phin Granville relate to each other turns the typical titled boy-meets-beautiful virgin girl motif on its ear, because Phin’s title affords him nothing but a false haven from the life he once led, and Mina is no virgin. (Is that a relative first for romance? A woman who isn’t widowed, who didn’t lose it against her will, who just decided to get it done?)

Phin’s a recreational drug user, Mina sells women’s hair products to make money and for all of the insistence that Mina is petite and blond and porcelain pale, it’s Phin who is more breakable. And the way they fall in love… it’s just there. It happens as they go along. It’s just a part of their process. There’s no real “ah-ha” moment where they start using those words, where The Hero Changes or The Heroine Submits.

Duran didn’t follow the formula and her prose is far more complex than the sort of easy banter/argument combo that most romance authors use.  I can’t actually think of favorite lines off the top of my head, because no single line jumps out; her paragraphs work as units, as do her pages. Every conversation that Phin and Mina had was one I haven’t read before in a romance. It was more like two people having organic conversations about whatever was actually going on in the scene at that very moment. It’s scenes readers remember. Like Phin catching Mina in his study, or their trip to the country, or Phin showing Mina that there’s more to intimacy than she’s experienced.   

Sure, a few things threw me out of the story: like a few bits of cringeworthy sexual terminology and a scene from BBYT that I kept expecting to see repeated and addressed from Mina’s POV but wasn’t.  But, overall, Written on Your Skin represents –like Duran’s previous books, like Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster books, and Tessa Dare’s Goddess of the Hunt— a new breed of historical romance, tipping its hat to those that came before and then blazing forward on a wholly different path.

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