Jan 8 2014 4:30pm

Trading Places: Switching It Up in Romance

The Switch by Lynsay SandsMy 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.

The Husband Trap by Tracy Anne WarrenIn 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.

Mistress Christmas by Lorelei JamesAnd 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.

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Kiersten Hallie Krum
1. Kiersten
Sandra Brown memorably did a version of the switch first in Mirror Mirror (one of my fave old skool SB books), though those two women were not related, and then with twin sisters in the literal title The Switch - though that one hooked it good at the end as I recall. Maybe the middle.
Riley Moreland
2. ramore
I haven't read The Switch, but I can tell you that this particual plot device was used quite successfully by Lynsay Sands in The Countess. In that story twin brothers, one good, one evil, make up the switch. The heroine was wooed by the good brother and then wed by the evil brother, unbeknownst to her. There is a murder ensued by plenty of mayhem. The Countess is a very entertaining story!
3. rubymydear
A pair of books by Christina Dodd, "Scandalous Again," and "One Kiss from You," follow the two stories of cousins who take each others' place.
4. rubymydear
Oh, and there's Gayle Callen's A Duke in Disguise, and Lisa Kleypas' Someone to Watch Over Me. There's another Kleypas, Stranger in My Arms, which is more of a Martin Guerre type story.
5. Kareni
Mary Jo Putney's The Wild Child features a hero who is switching places with his twin brother. It was a good story.
6. Tammye
Jude Deveraux's Twin of Ice and Twin of Fire feature twins who trade places. It helps to set up several of her other Montgomery/Taggart books. Whoever can tell the twins apart is the person's true love.
Jennifer Proffitt
7. JenniferProffitt
@Ramore, I read The Countess and loved it--and then subsequently forgot it even had twins! I thought it was a great series and I was so glad to see Sands return to historical.

@rubymydear: I haven't read the Christina Dodd, but do love a good switch, so I'll have to restart it. And yes, I'd agree that Stranger in My Arms is a slightly different case, but still a trope that we actually see a lot of. I think all of this is very closely linked to the mistaken identity trope, too. Great recs!

@Kareni, what a great book! If I remember correctly, the heroine had a Nell like thing going on, correct? You know, lives in isolation, doesn't really speak, etc? Uh! I forgot how much I loved that book!
Jennifer Proffitt
8. JenniferProffitt
@Tammye, that's one of the factors that I really do love about Switches, because so often the men/women who can tell the twins apart is really the one they're supposed to be with. Great recommendations!
9. Kareni
JenniferProffitt, I fear I don't understand the Nell reference; however, you're correct in recalling that the heroine of The Wild Child does not speak much. It was a good read. I may have to revisit it now ....
Alexandra W
10. parasolprotectorate
I think I first read Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet when I was about ten, and I still love them today!

I enjoyed Eloisa James' Duchess by Night.
Jennifer Proffitt
11. JenniferProffitt
@Kareni: Oops sorry, just saw this! Did you ever see the movie Nell with Jodie Foster (I feel like it was based on a book or real events too, but...). Anywyay, Nell is a woman who was raised in an isolated cabin by her mother who had had a stroke. Nell grows up only knowing the way her mother spoke post-stroke and is scared by the people who come to her cabin after her mother dies. They later try to diagnose her as having Asperger's or something. Anyway this is a blurb from the wiki plot description:
Paula and her colleague Dr. Alexander "Al" Paley (Richard Libertini) are interested in studying a "wild child" (feral child)...
So yeah, that's what I'm referencing with Wild Child...which I really must track down and read again. SO GOOD!

@parasolprotectorate: Oh my gosh, I love them to this day too, and have a re-read every so often. I had the opportunity to meet Tamora Pierce at NY ComicCon last year but she never showed for her panel...saddest day of my life. LOL. Second saddest was just this moment realizing that those books are probably lost to the tornado that took my parents house. Debbie Downer!

As for Duchess by Night: is that a switching places story? I know she goes in disguised but I can't remember if she was really switching it up!
12. Kareni
JenniferProffitt, thanks for explaining the Nell reference. The movie does sound intriguing; I'll be on the lookout for it!
Jennifer Proffitt
13. JenniferProffitt
No problem! It's mid-90s, I think, and was nominated for a ton of awards--including Golden Globes, Oscar, etc. etc. So yeah... And it has Liam Neeson, who I'm a big fan of too.
14. CBB
The first one I read was False Colours by Georgette Heyer. Great story!
Jennifer Proffitt
15. JenniferProffitt
@CBB, my shelves are severely lacking in Georgette Heyer--I might have to start with this one!
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