I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe
The Prince Catchers #1
I forget why I decided to give Ashe a try – I probably saw an interview somewhere or someone summarised the plot of one of her books. This particular title, however, I got because this series is what the library has. I’m always a little apprehensive when I pick up a new author, and the first couple of chapters had me suspicious. But boy oh boy, did I get into it towards the end! Well worth it, let me tell you.
I’m going to start by bringing up my only complaint. (I’m aware that this is poor form but I want to get this out of the way so I can go on enthusing.) The first chapter sets the events to 1817. That would make the setting Regency, after the Napoleonic Wars. The latter is fine: the hero saw action at sea, and travelling in France is safe again. However, I feel like the book lacks a what I would consider a Regency feel. This is partly due to the nature of the action, as there’s a sea voyage and a lot of time spent in France which lends the book the feel of an 80s romance, and instances of Gothic influence. These two traditions of romance create an atmosphere of a mix between Georgian and Victorian, rather than that of Regency. Ballrooms, London, and the ton, it seems, are more important to this particular subgenre than timing.
However, I can’t complain overmuch. Ashe clearly knows what she’s doing and the mix of adventure/Gothic works excellently. She has taken good elements from both and clearly understands the function of those elements, and, what I consider the best part, has not overused the effects. The use of elements and tropes is very precise, and very admirable.
Now to the characters. The hero, Luc, made me suspicious at first, what with his easy confidence and certainty that he will be obeyed. I was afraid he would turn out to be an Alphahole, which would have been in keeping with the captain-of-ship-used-to-command-in-adventure-romance setting of the beginning, but never fear! As with the setting, Ashe takes that hero trope and updates it into something utterly excellent. From the beginning, Luc is consistently respectful of the heroine’s mind and person, and never does a thing she doesn’t explicitly allow. Arabella, in turn, is confident and capable of making her own decisions and taking action whenever she feels it’s needed – which she does, frequently, and always relying on her own brain. Slight lack of communication with them there, but nothing too jarring.
One of the best things about starting on a new author, and especially a good one, is that you can’t be sure what’s going to happen. There are a couple of events in this book that, while they didn’t take me by surprise in themselves, left me wondering where they would lead. This, friends, is what I consider a sign of a really good romance author: Ashe takes the tropes and makes you doubt whether this will go the way things usually go.
I was originally going to extract half a star for the period thing, but now that I consider it, it’s really a minor thing in the grand scheme of things. Even though I was suspicious at first, this book absolutely won me over. Full marks! 5/5! And I will definitely read the stories of Arabella’s sisters Eleanor and Ravenna, once I get them in my hands!