The Duke

Written by Katharine Ashe
Review by Ray Thompson

The convoluted route through which Lady Amarantha Vale finds and marries the man of her dreams starts promisingly. As an eight-year-old she announces what she is looking for, and though her initial choice seems more conventional than we might expect, Gabriel Hume, the impressive naval officer in whose company she survives a hurricane in Jamaica, seems a much more suitable prospect. Fate, however, unkindly intervenes, and it is many years before these two find each other again: she the widow of a missionary, he now the Duke of Loch Irvine.

The writing is good, the dialogue witty, and the characters well-drawn, especially that of the spirited and unconventional Amarantha. The plot, unfortunately, relies heavily upon coincidence and misunderstandings, grows confusingly complicated (what the author calls a “twisty, turny path toward understanding”), and eventually descends into a melodramatic conclusion, with threats of blackmail, noble self-sacrifice, and forced marriage. Of particular interest to HNR readers is the portrayal of slavery and missionary work in the West Indies, and of the activities of abolitionists in Edinburgh in the early 19th century, all based upon historical examples, as the afternote explains. Recommended despite drawbacks.