3 ways For the Duke’s Eyes Only exceeds romance expectations


Lenora Bell’s latest, For the Duke’s Eyes Only, not only nails a tricky crossover, but also manages to play with a reader’s expectations.

Never mind starting Lenora Bell’s School for Dukes series with What a Difference a Duke Makes. Although Avon sent me just her second novel in the series, For the Duke’s Eyes Only, suffice it to say that there’s absolutely no need to read the former — and it might actually ruin the experience a bit.

Yes, For the Duke’s Eyes Only might be the best book by Bell I’ve read, which is saying something, since I’ve liked her previous work.

Here are some reasons this seasoned romance reader found herself pleasantly surprised.

Modern pop culture made historical fiction

You’d best brush up on your classic action movie references if you’re going to dive into For the Duke’s Eyes Only. From the reference in the title to Mina Penny being a named character, Bell refers heavily to James Bond in her creation of the plots surrounding Raven — and even the persona he puts on, as someone who likes his drinks and women but has difficulty with those pesky emotions.

In contrast, Raven calls India “Indy,” and to complete the reference, the description on the back of the book basically lifts the tagline from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These days, modern references like this are pretty much expected, but Bell has taken them mostly beyond a winking throwaway line and effectively made the entire book a romantic sendup of both Bond and Jones that still manages to be tense, too.

Some of them, like Mina Penny, are perhaps a little too obvious, especially considering how well-done most of the references are, but fortunately, those are mostly on the throwaway level. (In writing this, I noticed another: Indy’s love interest is the Duke of Ravenwood, which is a shout-out to Marion Ravenwood or otherwise the luckiest coincidence this year.)

The age difference (or lack thereof)

India is a year younger than Raven. That’s it. They have both aged since their childhood friendship, and for her to not only be roughly of equal social status (he’s a duke; she’s a duke’s sister), but of equal age, is not something one can always easily encounter in historical romance. In fact, India has actually lived a life that is pointedly unconventional — to the point where she has some life experiences not all heroines do, including when it comes to relationships.

It’s fitting that India calls back to Indiana Jones, too, in the sense that he also had a tendency to have encounters women younger than he (Indy’s a decade older than Marion, his most famous paramour). Instead, India’s falling for someone close to her in age.

Nailing the crossover

Spies, in particular, are not uncommon in the historical romance genre; they’re not as ubiquitous as pirates, certainly, but yours truly can think of at least a few other recent novels that deal with the same subgenre. However, many of those don’t incorporate both sides effectively, either by not letting both hero and heroine shine in different ways or by focusing on one over the other. Here, because both of them have a purpose on the trip they’re taking, they get to have their moments without overshadowing each other.

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All in all, this is a fun book that also manages to hit multiple genres without forcing the book too much. It’s clever, funny, and pretty steamy.