Monday, 19 March 2012

Dukes To the Left Of Me, Princes To The Right by Kieran Kramer

Most Women would not be please to be labelled a spinster.  But Lady Poppy Smith-Barnes isn’t most women.  In fact, Poppy has invented an imaginary fiancé, the Duke of Drummond, to deter unwanted suitors.  A very useful fellow, this duke, until the real Drummond turns up and uses Poppy’s ploy to trap her into a betrothal. 
A good spy flies below the radar.  Which is why being named one of the Prince Regent’s ‘Impossible Bachelors’ is so inconvenient for Nicholas Staunton.  Every society female will be out to ensnare him.  Nicholas needs a fiancée – and Poppy’s ruse is the answer.  How could he have known she’d be a brazen, sensual siren with an irresistible taste for adventure?  Now nothing less will do to convince his fiery Poppy to revoke her spinster status ... for good. 
It’s been a while since I’ve actually read a regency novel and I was pleasantly entertained by this one.  All the really great elements of a classic regency story, things that I love about the genre.  The heroine is smart and ‘plucky’, and since she is a well brought up young lady she doesn’t suffer from the indignities that a contemporary heroine might face when labelled as such.  Regency heroines have class, and thankfully are unlikely to fall victim to the hi-jinks of the ‘oops, silly me’ brigade most modern-day female characters tend to favour.  Thank God.  Lady Poppy is my kind of girl. 

Our hero, is a spy. 
Need I say more?
Oh alright, he’s the typical devil-may-care romance novel bachelor, which means that he loves women, but can’t seem to decide on just one.  But the ladies don’t seem to mind so much (romance bachelor trait number two).  But naturally, he has the good sense to realise that Lady Poppy is a total catch, as opposed to all those old-school romance bachelors who tended to be of the rape first-think later school of thought.  Thank goodness that’s over.   

The thing about this book is that it’s exciting.  Who’d have thought right?  We have Poppy, who has been proposed to twelve times and knocked back every single one, to the point where she has a ready-made, well-rehearsed speech, all because she harbours a crush on Prince Sergei, who she met in St Petersberg when she was fifteen.  She lets them down gently by telling them about this guy, this made up guy, called the Duke of Drummond, who she’s madly in love with.  Now, she knows perfectly well that there is no such person, hasn’t been for years, but it lets her potential husbands walk away with the pride still mostly intact. 

The newly titled Duke of Drummond Nicholas Staunton is British Secret Service, a Victorian James Bond and when events conspire against him (gets a title, gets a shot at a highly secret mission and gets on the Prince Regent’s Impossible Bachelors list) he needs to find himself nice and boringly engaged so the title hunting debutantes leave him to do his work.  How fortunate for him that there’s this woman running around London, knocking back suitors because she says she’s in love with him?  Never mind that they’ve never met. 

Confused yet?  No?  You will be.

Nicholas takes off to the nearest ballroom where he expects he can find this young lady, get engaged (officially), married and send her off to the estate.  After he does all that he can get a shot at this prize mission, Operation Pink Lady.  I do love an awesome mission name.  Poppy, who is at this ball so she can meet Prince Sergei for the first time in six years and hopes to snag him properly now that she’s all grown up, gets caught between the two of them.  Oh dear.  And it’s not like she can say in front of a crowded ballroom that she made him up because she was waiting for Sergei to come strolling back into her life.  Because he’s her soul mate.  Really. 
Oh, and Prince Sergei’s sister, Princess Natasha (brat, witch and corgi owner) is a former lover of Nicholas’ that she had to drug to get him to stay a whole night while he was trying to seduce information out of her.

Didn’t I say it was going to get complicated?

After that, there are a few deals made between Poppy and her by now no-longer imaginary Duke, after the clever cookie figures out that he is not all that he seems.  He’s surprised she finds the idea of rusticating in the country abhorrent and she’s surprised that he isn’t a Neanderthal halfwit.  He comes to the realisation that maybe, just possibly there’s a woman out there who fits his idea of the ‘Perfect Woman’ and he’s just lucky enough to be engaged to her.  She discovers that possibly the perfect guy for her isn’t Russian after all.  Mighty Wang, meet Magic Woo-Hoo.  There’s a scene where Poppy, Nicholas and the two royal (pain in the arse) Russians go to the museum on a sort of double date.  It borders on farcical, Natasha’s precious dogs being pushed along in a baby carriage of all things, while the two British spies try to winkle some much needed information out of them. 
Being a romance novel, of course there is some sexy time thrown in, but it’s not the full frontal stuff you get sometimes which is usually to try and boost readership or some such nonsense.  That much graphic material is not necessary with this, it’s just great writing.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s some pretty hot stuff in there, but you’re never suddenly struck with the feeling that you’ve accidentally walked in on your roommate and her new guy doing something interesting on the washing machine.    

Mistaken identities, imaginary fiancés, family betrayals, spies in training, manipulative princesses, missing paintings and Viking treasures... it’s one hell of an adventure and I can’t wait to find the next book by this author. 

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