By Katharine Ashe
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Reviewed by Janga
Miss Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of respected physician John Shaw, has a fierce desire to follow her father into the medical profession. Twenty-year-old Libby, as she is known to intimates, is stubborn enough not to be deterred by a culture that deems her desire—or any woman’s desire--to become a physician or a surgeon shocking and unacceptable. She disguises herself as Joseph Smart, a bewhiskered young man, to attend a dissection demonstration and a lecture. She almost succeeds in her daring deed, but Ibrahim Kent, a man Libby met more than two years ago at the home of the Duke and Duchess of Loch Irvine (The Duke), is also in attendance. A popular portraitist who lives with his own secrets, Kent sees more than most people, and he recognizes Libby. She proves her mettle by refusing to be intimidated by what clearly could be disastrous to her plans. Instead she turns his potentially disastrous knowledge to her advantage and proposes that Joseph Smart live in Kent’s house and attend surgical school. Even more audaciously, she asks that Joseph Smart be introduced to master surgeon Charles Bell. (An apprenticeship under a master surgeon is a required step in achieving her goal.)
Kent understands life lived in disguise better than most people would. He is Ziyaeddin Mirza, exiled prince of Tabir, but for many years, for his own safety and the safety of others, he has been a semi-reclusive, mysterious painter of portraits with only a few people aware of his true identity. He has been fascinated by Libby since they first met, but he is ever conscious of his responsibility to his family and his country. He knows that he must return to Tabir. Nevertheless, he strikes a bargain with Libby: he will accept Joseph Smart as a boarder and introduce him to Charles Bell, and Libby will agree to sit for him for an hour every week.
Libby’s plan to further her knowledge works, but Ziyaeddin refuses to let her use her skills to help him. A real friendship develops between the two of them, but sexual tension ensures that they are aware of the potential to be more than friends. But Ziyaeddin’s destiny awaits him a world away from Edinburgh, and the fulfilment of Libby’s dream depends on the sustaining of her adopted identity. Can an HEA be more than a dream in such a situation?
In the fourth book of her Devil’s Duke series, Ashe gives readers an emotionally intense story of two complex people who are more than the labels others would use to define them. This is a love story that involves the head and the heart as well as the libido. A mystery subplot adds another layer of interest. The lead characters possess depth, intelligence, and a genuine humanity. The secondary characters add color, interest, and in some cases even a touch of humor.
I’ve been singing Katharine Ashe’s praises since early in her career, but this is an extraordinary book even from this talented author. Libby and Ziyaeddin are not the kind of heroine and hero one typically encounters in romance. I love that Ashe allows their relationship to develop gradually. By doing so, she ratchets up the sexuality and the readers’ emotional investment as she gives the protagonists time to know each other before they become lovers and her readers time to know these characters and the stakes that are part of the choices they make. Also, without any overt political posturing or sermonizing, Ashe reveals the gender and racial prejudice that exists in the characters’ world--and in the readers’ world.
Although this novel is part of a series and fans of the earlier books will be pleased to see some familiar characters, I think the book can be read easily as a standalone. If you like historical romance that makes you feel, makes you think, and leaves you considering how soon you can plan a reread, I highly recommend The Prince. I have added it to my best-of-the-year list.