The Heir and the Spare
Looking back on The Heir and the Spare, I cannot say that the book left any deep impression on me. What stands out most clearly in retrospect is not the actual story itself, but rather a memory of reading this book on the bus and enjoying it. The plot points are a bit silly and the characters just deep enough to avoid cliché. Nevertheless, this book sped along a week of commutes via public transportation, and that is no small feat.
The book opens as Devon Kensington, at the behest of his father, yet again covers for his idiotic identical twin brother Phillip. This time Phillip, the heir of the family, has preempted the deflowering of the new Duchess of Grafton and her Duke is out for blood. Devon, the spare, has all too good of an aim and decides to flee the country before the influential Grafton dies of his wounds. Five years later Devon returns to London from America to find that his brother has been busy spreading rumors. Phillip has told half the ton that Devon died at sea while fleeing the consequences of the duel .
Thus it is not surprising that when American heiress Emilia Highhart enters a ballroom and falls in love, she is told that the handsome man who caught her as she tripped down the stairs was none other than Phillip Kensington. This makes sense to Emilia, as “Phillip” later that night kisses her with a passion and knowledge that fits in well with his rakish reputation. Devon plans to walk away from the encounter without looking back; however, the real Phillip soon pursues Emilia in Devon’s place, as Emilia’s fortune could revive the family estates. Devon continues to meet her by accident as she is out in society and Emilia is left wondering why “Phillip” is at turns tender and arrogant, passionate and bored. All of her hopes and her confusion come to a head at a house party held by Phillip on his ancestral estate.
I will fully admit that the setup does not look too inspiring on paper- the klutzy heroine, when added to the good twin and the bad twin, seemed at first to be rather wince-inducing. Yet I got over this as the story was quite good. Emilia, despite her rather silly conundrum, never crosses into eye-rolling behavior. Instead, she is understandably quite confused as to why Phillip blows so hot and cold, and she seeks advice from her chaperone and aunt, Lady Palmerston. Lady Palmerston is a fascinating character, at turns supportive and manipulative. Emilia and her aunt soon know that something about the situation is strange, but they are willing to cautiously try Phillip out as a potential match as they attend his house party. When Devon throws himself into the mix, the party soon descends into gossip-inducing mixups and startling disclosures.
The development of Devon’s relationship with Emilia is far too cute and coincidental for my tastes, but I cannot say that the story ever descended into outright ridiculousness. I also must note that there were places in the story, such as the scenes including Devon and Phillip’s father, where I found myself unexpectedly touched. In the long run The Heir and the Spare is neither earth-shattering nor particularly memorable. Still, Rodale has taken a silly plot point and gotten wonderful mileage out of it. I did enjoy the exploits of Devon and Emilia throughout the entire book, and was occasionally impressed by scenes that lent this book an unexpected emotional depth.