I have a fascination of books with cross-dressing themes that rivals my fascination with virgin heroes. I’ve also heard many, many good things about Lynsay Sands. So I was pretty excited and looking forward to a rollicking good read with The Switch. What I got instead was a poorly written book with a bad case of “kitchen-sink” plotting. So much for great expectations.
Twin sisters Charlie (Charlotte) and Beth Westerly are running away from their wicked Uncle Henry, who plans to marry them off to two equally wicked old men. For their own protection on their journey, Charlie decides to dress up as a boy. However, just as they’re making their escape, they run into Lord Radcliffe, business whiz extraordinaire (aren’t they all?). Discerning man that he is, he sees Charlie in her tight breeches and bad wig, and falls immediately for their ruse. They tell him their (modified) sad story, and his protective instincts take over. He offers to take the two of them to his London home, where they can pretend to be his cousins. Beth can have a proper season so she can find a less repulsive husband, and Charlie can learn to be a proper man. The twins, intelligent specimens of womanhood that they are, work out that they can take turns being the boy, thus securing husbands for both Beth and Charlie. Hence the title, The Switch.
The three make their way to Radcliffe’s London home, which is miraculously maintained only by a butler, a maid, a cook and a woman who comes to clean during the afternoons. Nobody in the lineage-obsessed ton questions Radcliffe closely about his newly acquired cousins, one of whom looks remarkably like a girl dressed up as a boy. No chaperone is required for Beth — presumably, living with two bachelors is protection enough for her reputation in eighteenth-century Britain. The only fly in the ointment is Radcliffe’s alarming attraction to the young sprig. He is determined to make a man of Charlie, thus hopefully getting rid of his unaccountable lust. And where is a man most truly a man, but at a brothel?
The remainder of the story quickly degenerates into a morass that I can’t even begin to summarize. A country waif, seven puppies, a widow and her two fatherless children are rescued at various times by the ever-intrepid Charlie and installed in Radcliffe’s household (the man is incredibly indulgent with people he catches trying to run away from wicked uncles). Charlie and Beth switch places periodically throughout the book, and naturally, Radcliffe stops feeling attracted to “Charlie” when they do and starts ogling “Beth’s” magnificent breasts. Meanwhile, the real Beth finds a perfect love in the form of Tomas Mowbray who is, conveniently enough, a good friend of Radcliffe’s. (Side note: why the heck is Tomas spelled in the Continental style when the man seems to be thoroughly British?) Then there’s the blackmail subplot, the many pratfalls and kidnappings, hasty weddings, the reappearance of Wicked Uncle Henry and the side romance going on between Radcliffe’s butler and the rescued widow.
The awkward writing did not help the incoherent plot. Half a page is spent explaining why Beth has greasy hair, right in the middle of an action scene. And honestly, is a detailed explanation for greasy hair really necessary in any plot? Redundancies such as “[H]er stomach rumbled loudly, announcing its hunger” pepper the book. Other annoying writing traits include the juxtaposition of anachronisms with pseudo-historical talk (“Mayhap you are coming down with something” is my personal favorite) and lots of modern psychobabble about guilt and inadequacy.
The characters are wooden at best, ludicrous at worst. The bad guys are completely evil. The good guys are really good, although Radcliffe seemed magnificently stupid. How can the man not figure out that Beth and Charlie are twin girls, especially given his on again, off again attraction to one of them? Fergawdsake, you’d think female hips squeezed into tight breeches would be clues enough. The twins aren’t much better. Beth is the stereotypical shy twin, while Charlie is the stereotypical spunky one. Oh, and did I mention that Charlie goes chasing after blackmailers without telling anyone where she’s going or leaving any kind of note behind?
To add insult to injury, I couldn’t even tell in which period the action was taking place until the end of the book. I’m not even a stickler for historical realism — lord knows I’ve enjoyed my share of improbable historicals — but the historical setting in this book is about as substantial as air. You know it’s there, but it’s almost impossible to see any visible sign of it. Add that to the large holes in logic and plotting, and my intelligence felt so insulted that it was giving me the cut direct when I turned the last page.
I truly wanted to enjoy The Switch. Unfortunately, willing as I am to suspend disbelief when reading a cross-dressing romance, I just couldn’t buy into the charade in this book. The haphazard “kitchen sink” plotting, cardboard characterization and poor writing didn’t help either. It’s not quite wallbanger material, but to quote Jay Sherman from the cartoon, The Critic: “It stinks.”