“The Earl” by Katharine Ashe is a historical novel filled with adventure, mystery, and sprinkled with romance. She is a professor of History who has strong heroines that learn from and teach the men who love them. This book is the conclusion of the “Falcon Club” series and the second book in the “Devil Duke” series.
All her stories are compelling and through the character’s eyes, emotions, and conflicts, readers can learn about the historical context. The banter of barbs, bickering, and debating allows them to begin to understand the other’s passion and point of view. The identity of her heroine, Lady Justice, is Emily Anne Vale, while Peregrine is Colin Gray, the Earl of Egremoor. They are constantly trading correspondence and debating over the column written about women’s issues, specifically a woman’s marital status.
After Colin agrees to help her find her sister, who has disappeared, they are thrown together. He imposes one condition; they find out each other’s true identity. At the meeting place, Colin admits he is Peregrine and believes Lady Justice to be a man and insults her by demanding to see her master, the real Lady Justice. His assumptions are based on the fact that Lady Justice’s identity was never revealed. Because of her deep disappointment that the man she once knew as a childhood friend could so blatantly dispel that a woman was capable of accomplishments, Emily refused to reveal herself.
The mystery begins in Scotland. It is here they trace her sister’s presence and are accused of killing a local man’s wife. It seems a man who resembles Colin and someone dressed up as a woman resembling Emily are robbing travelers. When they are mistaken for outlaws, they have to flee for their lives. Readers take this adventurous journey with the characters as they try to prove their innocence.
Emily is independent, a recluse, bookish, strong-willed, and at times self-righteous, while Colin is honorable, determined, witty, and chauvinistic. A quote in the book shows how he feels entrapped, “It was thought they were on opposite sides of a tightly locked door. She stood firmly and proudly on the outside… while he was inside the room, suffocating.” It is as if he wishes he could be like Emily, comfortable in her own skin, but instead was pressured by his father to be someone he is not. Ashe noted to blackfive.net, “They’ve each built up ideas of who the other is. I wanted to show that not all heroes have to be John Wayne. The men important to me are intelligent, sensitive, and emotional. Over the course of this journey they must tear these notions apart. In the beginning they each believe they know the truth about the other, but by the end they realize they’ve only been partially correct.”
Ashe says the scenes of physical intimacy are an integral part of the characters’ story. “In the early 1800s, women of the privileged class were protected from male sexuality. But Emily acknowledges it and tries to come to terms with the double standard in which men are expected to experience their sexuality while women are not. As far as I am concerned if the sex does not have meaning that alters the relationship, for the good or the ill, it should not be in the novel. Physical intimacy must be a meaningful communication. When Emily makes sexual advances she is a woman on the front edge of feminism during this era.”
Readers will have to wait for the next book, The Duke, to find out what becomes of Colin and Emily’s relationship. Ashe explained, “I intentionally left it open ended. I want Emily to maintain her legal autonomy, and if she married she would lose it entirely. Yet, unless they marry, their children would not be able to inherit Colin’s title or property. Ultimately, it’s clear in “The Duke,” which also answers the mystery of why the Duke of Loch Irvine does not want his secrets exposed, and whether he is indeed the devil society believes him to be.”
This page-turner has people unraveling the mysteries of why Emily’s sister disappeared, will Colin discover Lady Justice’s true identity, and will they be found innocent of the crimes accused of? The novel is full of the contradictions men and women often face and struggle with surrounding the issue of equality.