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. Readers of her books can begin to understand how a woman can be feminine yet possess a feminist’s attitude. The plot has her heroine, Lady Amarantha Vale, journeying to Scotland in search of 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.
Elise Cooper: Where did you get the idea for the story?
Katharine Ashe: I love Scotland. It’s beautiful, and historically it’s such an amazing place, I wanted to set a story there. For a romance it’s a particularly ideal setting: there’s so much physical beauty and extremes of dramatic landscapes, with green mountains and gorgeous lakes. I adore the contrasts and emotions that Scotland evokes.
EC: What did you want to get across historically?
KA: Many English of the early nineteenth century saw Scottish Highlanders as ignorant savages. Yet, Edinburgh was a center of the Enlightenment, crackling with sophisticated culture and education, including modern developments in engineering and medicine.
EC: What do you want to get across about the relationship of the characters?
KA: 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. They get turned on by smart, successful, and beautiful women. I don’t care for the romantic relationship dynamic where the woman has to teach the man how to love. I prefer to write a hero who is already a fully functioning human being when he meets the heroine. What’s important to me is that they learn from each other how to be even better.
EC: It seemed the social issue you concentrated on was slavery?
KA: My very first novel included details about the West Indies slave trade, and I’ve touched on it in other novels. 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.
EC: Your heroes are not the typical romance ones?
KA: I like my hero to respect women entirely, from the start. 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.
EC: How do you write the intimate scenes into the flow of the story?
KA: When writing a love story there are many ways the protagonists communicate with each other: words, gestures, and actions. A part of that communication is the sexual intimacy. These scenes come as naturally as writing dialogue. And they differ according to the couple I’m writing. For instance, the love scenes in this book are a bit less explicit as some of the love scenes in my other novels, but they still convey the strong attraction and intimate connection. My heroes and heroines often also communicate verbally while making love. I think these scenes have to be a part of the whole dynamic of the relationship, which includes the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, romantic, and physical.
EC: The goodness you speak of, is it Gabe helping women who are escaping violent physical abuse?
KA: I’d rather not give away the details, since they’re spoilers to the mystery of the story. But yes, he helps women running from violence by men to find a safe haven.
EC: Yet, it was rumored that Gabe kidnapped women?
KA: I love to play with public perception verses private truth, and I made it the core of this series. In earlier novels, and to the public, Gabriel appears to be doing bad. But in this novel readers discover that he’s allowing that misperception about him in order to hide the good he is actually doing and to protect others.
EC: Please discuss your heroine, Lady Amarantha Vale.
KA: She’s bright, good-hearted, and has an irrepressible spirit of adventure. But she’s also pretty naïve at the start of the novel. She’s the daughter of an English earl, and extraordinary father because he allowed her to pursue her dream to marry for love. Most women of that era and her class married for political, economic, or family connections. Amarantha grows up a lot in this novel. But fundamentally she’s kind, compassionate, and full of life.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
KA: The Prince is coming in the summer of 2018. The main character is Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter of a doctor who solely raised her, and she dreams of being a surgeon. Unfortunately, women weren’t allowed to go to medical school back then. So She comes up with a plan to disguise herself as a young man and live in the house of a man she’s met through friends (Gabriel and Amarantha). What she doesn’t know—what he doesn’t tell her—is that he himself has a secret: he is prince living in exile in Scotland. What’s so fun is that the basis for this crazy plot came entirely from real historical sources. Elizabeth and Ziyaeddin are briefly introduced in earlier books in the series, which I love to do. The Prince includes cameo appearances by Gabriel and Amarantha, as well as Constance and Saint from The Rogue.