By Katharine Ashe
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
Lady Amarantha Vale, daughter of the Earl of Vale and younger sister of Emily Vale (The Earl), was only eight when she declared she would marry a man with golden curls and the nature of an angel with whom she would travel the world. Nine years later, to the consternation of her parents, she decided that the Reverend Paul Garland met her criteria and followed her golden-haired fiancé to his mission in Jamaica. The superficially saintly Garland delays their marriage until he has rebuilt his church. Meanwhile, Amarantha meets Lieutenant Gabriel Hume of the Royal Navy second son of the Duke of Loch Irvine, during a hurricane, an apt metaphor for the storm of emotions the meeting arouses in the lady and the most unsaintly Gabriel.
Gabe is promoted to captain and given a ship. When he receives his orders, he asks Amarantha to wait for him. But lies and her own uncertainties convince her that Gabe is unworthy of her love, and she marries Garland. Her marriage is not a happy one, and Amarantha finds solace in friendship and good deeds. More than five years after she sailed to Jamaica, Amarantha, now widowed, returns to Europe in search of her friend and her husband’s half-sister, Penelope Baker. Her search leads her to Scotland and ultimately to Gabriel, now the Duke of Loch Irvine. She rejects the rumors that Gabe, who has become known as the Devil’s Duke, is the homicidal monster responsible for the deaths of several young women. However, despite Gabe’s stubborn love for her and his efforts to convince her that he understands who she is and values her independent spirit, she cannot trust him with her heart. A web of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and secrets must be cleared away if this couple is to find their HEA.
The Duke is the third novel in Ashe’s Devil’s Duke series. The Earl, the book immediately preceding this one was a five-star read for me and barely missed my top ten romance novels for last year. From the moment I turned the final page of The Earl, I began eagerly anticipating The Duke. I expected it to be another five-star book; I wanted it to be another five-star book. And for the first part of the story, it was. Ashe brings the young Amarantha to life, capturing her idealism, her impetuosity, and her innocence. I liked this Amarantha. I ached for the disillusionment that was a necessary precedent to her acquiring wisdom, and I fell in love with Gabe, a rogue with a conscience and a vulnerable heart, right along with her.
Ashe always does a superb job with setting, and this book is no exception. She renders both the Caribbean and Scotland in vivid detail, making her readers see these very different places and cultures. She shows the inhumanity of the slave trade and its insidious effects on slaves and on those who enslave them directly and indirectly. But while the Old World setting is as deftly drawn as the New, other elements do not fare as well with the switch. The more mature Gabe is just as sigh-worthy as his younger self, and he becomes more complex and interesting as his secret is revealed. But I soon grew impatient with Amarantha and found her one-note distrust of Gabriel, who becomes a convenient target for all her woes, irritating.
Despite my frustration with the heroine and her choices, I loved the way Ashe interwove threads from The Earl and the overarching story of the Devil’s Duke with the events of this book. I also loved the sweep of the novel, a characteristic rarely seen in the historical romances of the present century.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I just can’t embrace it as enthusiastically as I did The Earl. The Duke can be read as a standalone, although I think it is a richer reading experience when read as part of the series. I do recommend this book, particularly for readers who long for a more expansive romance than is typical currently. Ashe is on my auto-buy list, and generally this book reinforced all that I love about her writing. The Prince, book 4 in the Devil’s Duke series, will be released May 29. I am already intrigued by the protagonists, who are secondary characters in The Duke, and perhaps the fourth book will show enough of Amarantha and Gabe’s HEA in progress to persuade me that she does deserve him.