There’s no denying it: Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right is silly. On top of that, it caused me to sing “Stuck in the Middle with You” every time I looked at the cover, or even thought about the title. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book – actually it’s often funny. Though it can be a bit much at times, overall it’s a pleasant read.
Poppy Smith-Barnes is part of the Spinsters club, which means that she won’t marry just anyone; only true love can tempt her into matrimony. She’s fairly sure that her true love is Sergei, a Russian prince she met in St. Petersburg when she was fifteen. Since that time, she’s turned down many proposals since then, using the excuse that she’s in love with the Duke of Drummond, a man she believes is fictional. Now that Sergei and his sister Natasha are traveling to England, she believes that her dreams are finally going to come true. There’s only one problem: The real Duke of Drummond has made an appearance, and he’s been ordered to propose to her.
Nicolas Staunton has dedicated his life to the service (in other words, he’s a spy like every other man in Regency England). But now his superior has declared that he must marry. He accepts his IF (Inevitable fate), and figures he’ll just stick lady Poppy in the country and carry on as usual. He manages to convince her to accept his very public proposal, but she vows to break it as soon as she gets the chance. Because a Spinster like her will only marry her True Love, Sergei.
Matters become confused when Poppy gets involved with Nicolas’s service assignment. It involves spying on Sergei and his annoying sister, and stealing an important Russian painting. As Nicolas and Poppy work together, they realize that they actually like each other. Poppy also comes to the conclusion that Sergei is a jerk who only wants to get her in bed. Thankfully, this happens quickly, because few things are as annoying as a heroine who natters on endlessly about some jerk when she has a better man standing right in front of her. Anyway, they are of course attracted to each other sexually as well, and Nicolas gives her a taste of what she can expect when she’s married to him. Will Poppy decide to leave Spinsterhood behind after all?
Most of the time, this book is pretty fun. You will, of course, have to throw any ideas of historical accuracy or realistic characterization out the window, because absolutely everything is over the top. The villains Russians are utterly ridiculous, and bear no resemblance to real people. Natasha is a lying, scheming slut. Sergei likes to announce often that he’s a prince, so he should get what they want. No one could take them seriously, so there’s no point in trying.
Similarly, my prejudice against Regency characters who form clubs is long-standing, and well-documented all over this website. This book is a twofer: Not only is the heroine a Spinster, the hero is an Impossible Bachelor. Silly, silly, silly. But it’s almost as if the author can tell it’s silly, and that makes all the difference. A wink and a nod in the right place makes the whole notion easier to swallow. The heroine’s aunt, who leads and guides the Spinsters, has some fine moments where she advises the girls and reflects on her own choices and the consequences. The girls also just barely land on the right side of the annoying sidekick line.
Other than the general silliness and historical inaccuracy, my only real quibble is that there is no actual consummation scene. We see a lot of build up, and we see aftermath. But the actual action is offstage. Somehow I felt a little cheated there.
If you’ve read Sally Mackenzie’s Naked series, you will have some idea what to expect here, because the tone is quite similar. If you’re seeking gritty realism, this book is not your best choice. But if you want a silly romp, you could definitely do worse.
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