My very first experience with The Switch as a plot device was with Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Series. I was all of 12 years old and I absolutely fell in love with the androgynous Alanna who switched places with her brother in order to become a night in Pierce's mythical land. In the course of the series, Alanna became friends with her fellow knight-in-training, the prince. Soon the prince, along with another boy—a thief—found out Alanna’s secret. And just as simple as that, I had my first love triangle. It seemed that shortly after being introduced to the concept of “The Switch,” I was surrounded by it (Lindsay Lohan’s The Parent Trap, for example). What was one of my favorite devices as a child quickly became a favorite once I started reading romance.
The most obvious way to do a switch is with twins. Enter The Switch by Lynsay Sands. Not only does it give us twin sisters who are constantly switching places, it gives us a chick in pants—and a lord who begins to feel quite uncomfortable with the feelings he has toward one small boy.
When they first met Lord Jeremy William Radcliffe, Charlie and her twin sister, Elizabeth, were escaping from their uncle-taking turns acting the young gentleman to avoid detection. But Charlie couldn’t help falling head over heels-and out of a window-for the handsome lord. Of course, that was only the beginning; Lord Radcliffe insisted on showing “him” and her lovely sister to London.
But how could he do that? With every touch, Radcliffe seemed unknowingly to incite indecent desires in Charlie, and his fraternal intent was certain to land her in a fine mess. Though it was a great game to play a boy, there was more fun in being female. And after one brush of his fiery lips when her guise was gone, Charlie swore to be nothing but his fiery woman forevermore.
In Sands’s example, the girls are on the run from their uncle and must switch roles…well because Elizabeth begins to feel jealous of Charlie’s freedom to be honest, but they must first assume the role for their own safety. In the case of The Husband Trap by Tracy Anne Warren, one selfless twin must stand in for her selfish sister who has run away. Did I mention the standing in is at the altar? What follows is a man who helps tempt a wallflower out from the shadows and a woman who learns that she must fight for what she wants—even if she must stand against her sister.
Like Warren’s Husband Trap, Jessica Benson also has an altar-swap in her book The Accidental Duchess. But in this scenario, it is the groom rather than the bride who has been switched out. Here’s a snippet from the cover:
And the truth is that Harry, who is my husband, but should not be, makes my hands shake and my heart pound in a way that Bertie never has and never will. Vexing, dangerously charming Harry, who won't tell me why he had to marry me, why he insists on masquerading about town as his brother, or most bothersome still, why he won't stop that annoying (and rather excitingly successful) habit of trying to seduce me!
Obviously twins switching places isn’t a new concept, it was immortalized in the prose of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a work that could easily be said to have influenced the books I’ve mentioned. In historicals, one twin often assumes the role of the other for protection—either to protect one another or to protect one from another person. Many times, however, a twin just wishes to assume the role of the other so that they might have an opportunity to let themselves go into that twins persona.
In the case of Celeste Bradley’s And Then Comes Marriage, prankster/inventor twins (not unlike Harry Potter’s Weasley Twins) Castor and Pollux, Castor assumes the role of his twin in order to woo the twin’s friend.
And it's not always twins who do the switching; in the case of Mistress Christmas by Lorelei James, Holly North lets her best friend guilt her into filling in as Mistress Christmas at Sugar Plus, a Christmas-themed strip club. Yes, you read that correctly. Christmas. Themed. Strip Club. After all, what says the birth of Christ like a woman stripping to “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Okay, jokes aside, this is actually a fun book filled with a mild-mannered accountant who takes a lap dance too far and Detective Nick West working on a case with Mistress Christmas who thoroughly enjoyed Holly’s misstep. Eventually the real Mistress Christmas makes her appearance and Nick automatically knows that while the two women could look alike, he knows in his heart that they aren’t the same.
In every one of these switching scenarios, there comes a time when the people who have been switching (maybe multiple times by the end of the scheme) must be confronted for what they’ve done. No one likes to know they’ve been fooled, especially in the case of romance, where the heart is also always involved. Of course, it is usually the heart that tells the people that they knew the difference all along. Either way, switching usually leads to some fun antics, some great character development, and, at the end of the day, the realization that just because there may be people out there who share your face, only one person will really have your heart.
Have you read romances that use the “switching” trope? What are some of your favorites?
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers and Criminal Element.