The Prince by Katharine Ashe is the last book in the “Devil Duke series.” With each new book, she outdoes herself. The latest is always better than the last. As with most of her books, she writes how nothing on the surface is what it seems to be. Both the hero and heroine hide their identity, she her gender, and he his background. He becomes a portrait painter so no one will know he is a prince, and she dresses up as a man, hiding the fact she is a woman. A subplot involving murdered women and grave robbers adds to the mystery of whether the hero and heroine’s secrets will be found out.
At the heart of the novel is how Libby Shaw and Ziyaeddin Mizra, aka as Ibrahim Kent, strive to save lives. He does it metaphorically, painting the real person, healing someone emotionally, while she does it literally, attempting to heal the body surgically. This is a refreshing adventure story with a theme of friendship and respect.
Elise Cooper: Were you influenced by the movie “Yentl,” where she dresses as a man to become a Rabbi?
Katharine Ashe: I saw “Yentl” years ago. Maybe it had been impressed on my imagination. But actually, the idea came to me while doing research for my previous novel, The Duke. I was walking in Edinburgh and happened upon Surgeons’ Hall, built in the late 1820s, in the middle of downtown Edinburgh. I spent hours in its amazing little museum.
EC: Did you ever think it far-fetched to have your main heroine, Libby, dress as a man to become a doctor?
KA: As I was searching in the Surgeons’ Hall gift shop I found a biography of Dr. James Barry, which inspired Libby’s disguise. He was formerly Margaret Buckley, a woman who at nineteen changed her name and appearance to enter medical school in Edinburgh in 1809. This was necessary because most men in nineteenth century Britain believed that women lacked the physical and moral nature to be physicians or surgeons. It was not until Barry was on his deathbed that it was discovered he had a female body. I thought that if James Barry could do it for a lifetime, then my character could do it for a year. And I wondered: how many women who sought a different life than they were allowed did this?
EC: Libby had a relationship, did Dr. Barry?
KA: Barry’s most recent biographers are very careful about coming to conclusions. It seems that some people probably knew. We do know that while stationed in Cape Town he had a very close relationship with the Governor. It is possible they had a father/son bond, but it is also possible they were lovers. The Governor was actually accused of it, which is something I wrote into my novel. It’s always fascinating to me how history can sometimes be crystal clear and sometimes frustratingly opaque.
EC: In some ways Charles Bell is the jumping off for the story?
KA: I discovered the existence of Sir Charles Bell too while in the museum. He was a brilliant Scottish surgeon in the early 19th Century. Besides being a medical man he was also an amazing painter. At the time I discovered him, I already knew Libby wanted to be a surgeon and Ziyaeddin would be a portrait artist. Bell was able to blend for me both of my characters’ worlds, a real historical person bringing together my heroine, a hopeful surgeon, and my hero, a painter.
EC: How so?
KA: Libby first asks Ziyaeddin to paint portraits and sign her name to them. She does it in the hopes that Bell might see how well she paints, with such anatomically accuracy, and then allow her to study medicine as his apprentice even though she is a woman. When Ziyaeddin refuses, she begs him to sign her alias name, Joseph Smart. Unwilling to put any other person’s name on his work, though, Ziyaeddin objects to this plan too.
EC: How did they meet?
KA: Libby and Ziyaeddin first appeared separately in my novel The Rogue. It was then I knew they were destined to be together. I just couldn’t resist throwing together two such different people: she always in motion, and he almost preternaturally still. They finally meet in the third book in the series, The Duke, when she comes upon him reading in a castle’s library and after only that brief encounter he draws her face perfectly.
EC: Why Edinburgh?
KA: At this period in the British Empire, Edinburgh was the center of constant movement, with peoples from all over the world studying medicine, engineering, and philosophy at the university, and the port of Leith a hub of global mercantile activity. Scientifically, politically, and culturally Edinburgh was extraordinarily sophisticated.
EC: How did you do the research, because there were some medical details?
KA: I did an enormous amount of research for this novel, including reading everything I could get my hands on by Charles Bell, and doing research at Duke University’s Rubenstein’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. I read the sorts of books Libby would have read, like textbooks and medical tomes, and I researched the medical community and what it was like to be an apprentice in Edinburgh at that time. I also consulted with physicians and medical experts on many details.
EC: Is the part about selling bodies true?
KA: Yes. Enterprising businesspeople sold cadavers to surgical schools all over Britain at this time. Some, however, turned to robbing graves to acquire the bodies, so the new Edinburgh police force put guards on the graveyards to stop them. Then two men started killing poor people they thought would not be missed, to supply their surgical school customers. They were eventually discovered, convicted, and hanged, and their own bodies were used for autopsies. The skin of one was made into everyday objects as a lesson to other potential criminals.
EC: What is your writing style?
KA: I love writing stories about people appearing to be one thing on the outside yet the reality is much more complex. Few of us are really entirely what we appear to be on the outside. I think we all wear masks of a sort, and play various roles according to need. In my novels, I allow my characters to take this to extremes, donning disguises and other personae so that I can fully explore through them the journey from uncertainty about the self to truth and honesty.
EC: What about this story?
KA: I’ve often written at least either a hero or heroine living behind masks; it’s a common theme in my novels. This time, however, both the hero and heroine wear masks, but they know about the other’s disguise, and even helped each other maintain the masquerade to others. This created a really powerful intimacy between them immediately, even as they fight to resist their attraction.
EC: Do you think Libby is your most sexually forward heroine?
KA: Probably, but principally because as a person of medicine she is entirely comfortable with the human body. Raised entirely by her adoptive father who didn’t require her to confine herself to “ladylike” pursuits, she lived with more freedom than many of her peers. Also, she is compulsively honest, so her curiosity about the human body has few limits. That said, most of my heroines are unafraid of their sexuality.
EC: A heads up about your next book?
KA: This was the last book of the series, and I haven’t yet announced my next work. But I can say now that my next novel will be full of rich history, powerful emotion, and some mystery too!
The Prince (Devil’s Duke #4)
Libby Shaw refuses to accept society’s dictates. She’s determined to become a member of Edinburgh’s all-male Royal College of Surgeons. Disguising herself as a man, she attends the surgical theater and fools everyone—except the one man who has never forgotten the shape of her exquisitely sensual lips.
…will make a prince say yes to her every desire
Forced to leave his home as a boy, famed portraitist Ziyaeddin is secretly the exiled prince of a distant realm. When he first met Libby, he memorized every detail of her face and drew her. But her perfect lips gave him trouble—the same lips he now longs to kiss. When Libby asks his help to hide her feminine identity from the world, Ziyaeddin agrees on one condition: she must sit for him to paint—as a woman. But what begins as a daring scheme could send them both hurtling toward danger…and an unparalleled love.
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ABOUT KATHARINE ASHE
Katharine Ashe is the USA Today bestselling author of historical romances reviewers call “intensely lush” and “sensationally intelligent,” including two Amazon’s Best Romances of the Year. A professor of history and popular culture, she writes fiction because she adores the grand adventures and breathtaking sensuality of historical romance. For more information, please visit her at http://www.katharineashe.com.