“The Duke,” part of the “Devil’s Duke” series by Katharine Ashe is part mystery, part historical and part romance. She is one of those writers who allow readers to get swept up in the social, cultural and political events of the 1800s.
Having the setting in Scotland and the West Indies allowed for the intertwining of issues involving equality. There is a definite connection between women of that era who became involved with the abolitionist movement as they fought for equality themselves.
Through her main character, Lady Amarantha Vale, readers learn how she sought not only adventure but also emancipation for those enslaved in Jamaica. Unfortunately, she realized too late that her husband did not have her sentiments as he explained, “They are incapable. Like children and women, they lack the full capacity for reason and therefore the ability to govern themselves rationally.”
“My very first novel included details about the West Indies slave trade, and I’ve touched on it in other novels,” Ashe said. “In ‘The Duke,’ it’s embedded in the core of the story. Since the fight for women’s rights in England, Scotland and France was often intertwined with the abolitionist movement, that plays a part in the novel too. It was an era when women and men of all colors and strata of society fought to change the law so that all could be treated equally under the law.”
She made mistakes in her choices for a partner, not once, but twice. She originally thought her first husband Reverend Paul Garland was a libertine, someone like her father, who respected women and who encouraged them to be independent. The other man in her life, Duke Gabriel Hume, was seen as a “bad boy,” a flirt, someone who took advantage of women. Unfortunately for her, she misread their personalities, wrong in both cases.
After hearing that Amarantha decided to go through with the marriage to Garland, Gabriel returns to Scotland where he becomes a recluse. Years later, now widowed Amarantha sails to Scotland to look for her missing friend, Penelope Baker, whose trail leads to Castle Kallin, Gabriel Hume’s highland estate. He is known to society as the Devil’s Duke because of rumors about his kidnapping of young girls. Still in love with Amarantha, he decides to allow her to be his guest. She accepts, intent on finding out the truth about him and her friend’s disappearance, knowing that only Gabriel has the answers. Because he is not willing to let her learn his darkest secret a game of wit and desire begins between them.
As with all Ashe characters, the heroine is strong-willed, not content to allow society to dictate her place in it and is very willing to speak her mind. The hero is always confident, brave and willing to treat the woman he loves as an equal.
“I like my hero to respect women entirely, from the start,” Ashe said. “He doesn’t have to be convinced that a woman is a worthwhile partner and he doesn’t have to be taught how to love. This is the type of man I love in reality: men who actually believe women are equals. It’s what my husband is like. And in this book my hero, Gabriel, is already engaged in doing good in the world, even before he meets my heroine Amarantha — although she spurs him on to do even greater good. Of course, there are intense emotions of desire and passion. But also the beauty of friendship is crucial for a couple in love, and the gentleness of understanding another person. I like my heroes and heroines to learn to see and love the whole other person. My heroes enjoy strong women.”
This book beautifully blends a riveting mystery within the historical context of the times. Ashe allows the relationship to grow into an intimate one of unbreakable love. Readers of her books can begin to understand how a woman can be feminine yet possess a feminist’s attitude.