Katharine Ashe transports readers to Edinburgh, Scotland, for The Prince, the fourth entry in her Devil’s Duke series. There is much to enjoy in this wonderful novel, including the beautiful city of Edinburgh, the intriguing historical details and all the twists and turns of a murder mystery steeped in danger. But the shining stars of this romance novel are its unique main characters.
Elizabeth Shaw is the brilliant daughter of a respected physician in Edinburgh. Determined to become a member of the city’s Royal College of Surgeons, she’s stymied at every turn, as the medical school will only accept men. When her father accepts a year-long appointment in London, leaving Elizabeth to stay in Scotland with friends, she embraces the opportunity to launch a plan. Dressed as a male, she attends a public surgical dissection. None of the other students seated with her in the theater balcony see through her disguise. One observer in the general audience, however, recognizes her immediately. Gifted portraitist Ziyaeddin met Libby Shaw only once, two years earlier, but he has never forgotten her. In fact, he’s still fascinated by the shape of her lips—and everything else about her. The artist in him instantly sees the woman beneath her disguise of male clothing and glued-on facial whiskers.
Worried at first that Ziyaeddin will expose her charade, Libby soon conceives a plan that requires his cooperation. Ziyaeddin is stunned when she arrives on his doorstep and declares she will agree to sit for a portrait if he will allow her to live in his home and pose as a male student. He refuses at first, for the plan is wildly outrageous. But after some consideration, he accepts. He has never met a woman with Libby’s fierce determination, blunt honesty and brilliant mind. She clearly must be a surgeon, and, just as clearly, he must aid her. Ziyaeddin is well aware that he’s breaking society’s rules. He doesn’t care.
Thus begins a deeply emotional and fascinating journey for these two amazing individuals. Ashe delves into the complicated lives of both Libby and Ziyaeddin. Libby has OCD and struggles to balance her compulsions with her commitment to medicine. Ziyaeddin was born a prince of the (fictional) Middle Eastern country Tabir, but was ripped away from his birthright as a child. Saved by a benefactor, he was trained by a gifted artist, only to be later enslaved and scarred by the amputation of a foot. Rescue by a duke brought him to Edinburgh, where his portraits have brought him both fame and fortune. When Ziyaeddin and Libby begin to live in the same house, sharing daily life, the sexual tension between them is strong and grows more powerful by the week. Ashe amplifies the slow burn of attraction between them, focusing on how their genuine respect for each other rises with every interaction.
Added to the suspense of the ever-present possibility that Libby’s disguise may be uncovered is a very real threat to her life when she realizes someone in the college is selling cadavers for profit and possibly committing murder to satisfy demand. Ziyaeddin is terrified Libby will be harmed by the threats that surround her but knows that perhaps it is he, himself, who poses the greatest threat to her happiness. The steady, careful character development Ashe devoted herself to earlier in the novel pays off in spades, as readers will find themselves desperately anxious that these two amazing people find their way to happily ever after.
Lois Dyer writes from her home in Port Orchard, Washington.