One of the things I love about historical romances is that there are so many of them that I haven’t run out of new bestselling authors to try. The Switch by Lynsay Sands was an impulse choice. I don’t know why I’ve never tried a Sands book before, but this one was so thoroughly enjoyable that I ended up reading excerpts aloud to my husband who, of course, thought I was utterly mad. But he married me that way, so he can’t complain.
Charlie and twin sister Beth Westerly are in the process of escaping from their uncle—who plans to marry Elizabeth off to a widower who was generally believed to have mistreated his 3 former wives—when they’re discovered by the Earl of Radcliffe. Radcliffe offers to help them travel to London so they can give Beth a Season. If she can make a suitable match before their uncle finds out, then she will finally be free of his control.
At least, that’s the plan Charlie gives Radcliffe. It’s not exactly what they’d originally planned because, well, they didn’t exactly tell him the whole truth. In fact, Charlie is Charlotte Westerly, she’s disguised as a boy partly so their uncle won’t quickly find them, and she’s the one slated to marry the thrice widowed suitor.
Poor Radcliffe starts feeling a little … disturbed. There’s the matter of his totally inappropriate feelings around Charlie, not to mention waking up next to the boy with a … well, an exciting morning surprise.
When they reach London, Charlie and Beth agree to swap roles every day so they can both look for husbands. What follows is one of the funnest Regency farces I’ve read in a while. Radcliffe takes Charlie to a brothel—to make a man out of the boy as well as to try and get the boy out of his (Radcliffe’s) mind—and the results are hilarious. Things get even more complicated when Beth gains an admirer, Charlie gains a lady admirer, Radcliffee kisses Charlie -disguised-as-Beth, and Charlie kisses three men one after the other in a confusion of identities and feelings.
Why I loved this book
It’s a plot that could have come undone at any point in the story, but Sands keeps a firm hold of the characters’ points of view so that it’s always clear who’s who in every scene. Radcliffe is particularly adorable when he becomes totally confused about his feelings for Charlie/Beth, all the while indulging the various schemes that Charlie/Beth finds herself in. And even if he wanted to act honourably towards Beth, he can’t do it because he’s confused about which twin he wants!
Charlie is the strength of this novel. Her transformations from Charlie to pretend-Beth and back again work because her thoughts, her point of view, remain consistent throughout the novel. It helps that her personality is naturally dry-humoured, practical and adventurous, which makes it easier for Radcliffe to think that she’s a boy. The scene where Radcliffe confesses to Charlie that he ‘er‘d his sister is hilarious, but I can’t include an excerpt because it would be too much of a spoiler.
Their scenes together when Charlie is dressed as a girl are less about wit and dialogue than showing the passion in their relationship. And Sands has to get plenty of mileage out of those scenes because Charlie isn’t often dressed as a girl. Still, Charlie can’t seem to be in a situation that doesn’t end up in a debacle:
“I do not know what has come over you. Twice tonight I caught you kissing men out on the balcony.”
“And once you kissed me yourself,” she snapped back, her face flushing with embarrassment despite her anger.
“Aye. Did you think then that meant you could run about kissing everyone?”
“I hardly did that!” Charlie fought the guilty flush that wanted to color her cheeks…
Radcliffe shook his head as if trying to scatter a fog clouding his brain. “You asked Norwich to kiss you because Tom’s kisses did not affect you?” When she nodded solemnly, he was silent for a moment, then, “And did you like Norwich’s kisses?”
Charlie hesitated. “They were nice.”
“Aye. They were pleasant enough, but they did not make my knees go all weak and my stomach quiver as if it were full of butterflies,” she admitted, then glanced up with surprise when he was suddenly standing before her. A hair’s-breadth away.
“And whose kisses do that to you?” he asked huskily.
It’s probably not historically accurate, but it’s great fun
Look, the story is pure fantasy. I’m not talking about historical details, but the actions and reactions of the characters. There’s no way to convince me that most of the main characters could survive this plot with their reputations intact. And yet even though it’s farcical, the romance between Charlie and Radcliffe is so unconventional and charming and sweet that it’s no hardship to suspend belief, revel in their shenanigans, and believe in their happy ending.
The ending gets a bit wild, plot-wise, but since the entire story works up to it, I was practically salivating for the confrontation. I didn’t predict one of the twists at the end. It’s a little convoluted, and some readers might feel it prolongs the ending a little too much, but it’s so much fun to see Charlie at work that I still liked it.
The last chapter—which is really an epilogue as it’s set a year later—is completely over the top. But again, I so loved reading about these characters that any chance to prolong the experience made me happy.
Yay or nay?
Oh, this was such a fun story to read. I’m off to find the rest of Lynsay Sands’s backlist—from the bookstore, the library or friends’ bookshelves. Can there be any higher recommendation than that?
This book was published in 1999, but it was reissued in 2007 with a gorgeous blue cover. You can read an excerpt here.
Where you can buy this book
AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Galaxy | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More (no online catalogue)
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Dymocks | eBooks.com | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Borders