Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-264174-8
Historical Romance, 2018
The Prince is the fourth book in Katharine Ashe’s Devil’s Duke series, but it can stand alone on its own quite well, I feel, due to the minimal amount secondary characters from past books and leftover plot threads from those books. Unfortunately, it lacks the “What the…?” over the top nature of the previous book, with the author opting to make this story as artificial as possible. Why be a generic romance novel when you can make it completely nondescript, right?
Libby Shaw wants to be a surgeon. Like many “intelligent romance heroines” in wallpaper historical romances, she doesn’t have to learn or perform secret dissections of her own throughout this story; she already knows all there is to know, perhaps by magic, and all she needs is to pose as a boy until she gets into the Royal College of Surgeons and passes the entrance exams. After that, they will have to acknowledge her brilliance and make her their new president, am I right? Also, Libby’s knowledge of medicine and anatomy is magically aligned with modern day sensibilities – despite having limited access to books, cadavers, mentors, and as such, she is a visionary who can give those backward early 19th-century doctors masterclasses that would make Louis Pasteur weep tears of awe and don a vagina hat to take part in a woman’s march.
And yes, in this story, she eventually becomes the most awesome lady surgeon ever, despite the fact that she is never portrayed believably as a lady who is into medicine. All her knowledge is in her head, as if she was born with all the genius in the universe, and while she talks a lot of wanting to be a surgeon here, she spends more time getting sketched by the hero, playing Nancy Drew with him, and checking out his Hardy Boy. She could have been a historian, an insect-obsessed scholar, or a heroine weirdly obsessed with pebbles, and the story would still be the same once some cosmetic changes have been made, such as changing the Royal College of Surgeons to the Hogwarts Academy of Instantaneously Brilliant Feminists or something like that.
She has met our hero “Ibrahim Kent” a few years ago, and the meeting was so indelibly awesome that he immediately recognizes her even after she’s slapped some whiskers on her face to attend a dissection exhibition. Not that she needs to learn anything from the dissection, of course, as remember, our heroine already knows everything and anything, and the scene serves only for the author to have the heroine mock the other males in attendance – haw, haw, stupid males, LOLOLOL – while showing me how much of a genius the heroine is. Oh, and the heroine only chooses to attend the dissections that she likes, because the best doctors are the ones who pick and choose what to learn rather than to digest all there is to know about the human anatomy. God, this heroine is so artificial, it’s ridiculous.
Oh yes, back to the hero. He’s actually Ziyaeddin Mirza, the exiled Prince of Tahir. His sister is a political prisoner back home, and Ziyahahaheehee has spent the last few years trying to petition the British government to help him get his country back. Alas, they won’t do that, as doing so can destabilize the current uneasy peace between Europe and Russia (damn, it’s always those Russians). Therefore, Ziyaheeziyaha spends his time… sketching women and attending parties. Hmm, I can see why they get rid of useless royalty like him back in Tahir.
Our hero is akin to those fake sheikhs in Mills & Boon Modern titles – he feels vaguely exotic, but not foreign enough to scare off genteel readers. There is no mention of his religion, culture… nothing. He’s basically an English nobleman with a foreign-sounding name and accent. I suppose Tahir must be a supremely liberated country – at least, before the alt-right Nazis took over with those disgusting Russians’ backing – because he also has no issues with Libby’s ambitions. Really, it’s almost like he’s a twenty-first century white dude underneath that superficial “foreign” trappings!
Anyway, these two do that same old song and dance about him wanting her, she putting out while insisting that she is an independent lady and wailing about the fact that he will one day go back to Tahir and leave her to her own scalpels and such, some women go missing, his past may have caught up with him… really, the whole thing is not the most memorable as I’ve come across these elements countless times before in other similar historical romances, especially those from this publisher. But what makes The Prince a most unsatisfying read, rather than merely an alright but forgettable one, is how artificial both the hero and the heroine are. They have a mass-manufactured feel to them, created to be as inoffensive as possible, and in the process ended up as nondescript as can be.
If you can overlook how these two are bags of clichés passed off as something different, without the author putting in extra effort to actually make them different, this one may resonate better with you. Me, I’d be over there, reading something else.