St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-37402-0
Historical Romance, 2010
Kieran Kramer is shaping up to be one of those rare authors who can persuade me to buy a condominium in Antarctica when I don’t even like the cold. I’m saying this because, on paper, Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right is an absolute wreck of apocalyptic proportions. But thanks to the author’s sense of humor and relentless sunny prose, I am actually charmed by this story.
If you prefer your historical romances to have some degree of historical accuracy in them, take a deep breath before you turn to page one of this book. This is one of those books where a title is more like a celebrity status. The hero, Nicholas Staunton, is an Earl but he has all the time and opportunity to devote himself to being James Bond. Responsibilities to his tenants? Never heard of them!
It gets better. Our heroine Poppy Smith-Barnes insists that she will only marry for love, and she actually expects to be given the opportunity to do so. To ward off a most persistent suitor, she invents a Duke, the Duke of Drummond, and tells him that she’s about to become the Duke’s fiancée. Now, this may work, I guess, if she is living in some corner in a remote part of the British Isles. But this story takes place in London. For Poppy to invent a fake Duke when there are only a few Dukes around and people in London can easily refer to that book to determine the lineage of the most prominent members of the Ton around… ai-yai-yai. Given how fast gossip and rumors spread in this story, it is very unlikely that Poppy’s deception could have succeeded.
At any rate, Nicholas’s boss soon learns of Poppy’s fake engagement, so he has a great idea. He’d elevate Nicholas’s rank to that of a Duke – the Duke of Drummond – and have Nicholas become Poppy’s dutiful fiancé because there is a mission that requires Ms Kramer needs a plot to get her hero and her heroine together.
See what I mean about this story potentially causing a few readers out there to reach for smelling salts?
Yes, things are only getting better. For all her insistence on wanting to marry for true love and trying to court the object of her infatuation, a Russian prince named Sergei Putanov or something – while being engaged to Nicholas, mind you – Poppy only knows Sergei for one week when she was fifteen. Therefore, all her shrieks of having true love for Sergei only point to her having even less brain cell that the rear end of a gerbil. Indeed, in this story, Poppy has the luxury of acting like a spoiled pampered brat running around demonstrating that it is a good thing that she’s gorgeous, since she certainly won’t be cherished for her non-existent intelligence. Nicholas is slightly better in that at least he isn’t running around screaming about being in love with some bloke he knew for a week when he was fifteen, but he also demonstrates distressingly little brainpower.
And yet, this story can be truly side-splittingly hilarious at moments. There is a nice buoyant charm to the conversations in this story that reminds me of Julia Quinn’s finer moments. Yes, it is like watching an oncoming truck speeding in my direction, following the antics of Dimwitted Miss Thang and her besotted beau, but there is an irresistible charm to the proceedings that keeps me reading and smiling despite everything.
Indeed, I am actually quite awe-struck by Ms Kramer’s ability to keep me entertained while having her characters display the level of intelligence usually reserved for bratty protagonists in children’s books. She must be using on me all those ninja tricks she learned while she was at the CIA, that cheating hussy. The RMS Hail Kieran Kramer is either going to hit an iceberg and sink soon or it will land on a glorious paradise where Sam and Frodo can boink happily ever after. Either way, so help me lord.