Title: The Heir and the Spare (2016)
Author: Emily Albright
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, New Adult
Extent: 288 pages
Release Date: January 18, 2016
Family can be complicated. Especially when skeletons from the past pop up unexpectedly. For American Evie Gray, finding out her deceased mother had a secret identity, and not one of the caped crusader variety, was quite the surprise. Evie’s mom had a secret life before she was even born, one that involved tiaras.
In this modern day fairytale, Evie is on a path to figure out who her mom really was, while discovering for herself what the future will hold. Charged with her late mother’s letters, Evie embarks on a quest into her past. The first item on the list is to attend Oxford, her mom’s alma mater. There, Evie stumbles upon a real life prince charming, Edmund Stuart the second Prince of England, who is all too happy to be the counterpart to her damsel in distress.
Evie can’t resist her growing attraction to Edmund as they spend more time together trying to unravel the clues her mother left behind. But, when doubts arise as to whether or not Edmund could ever be with an untitled American, what really ends up unraveling is Evie’s heart. When Evie uncovers all the facts about her mom’s former life, she realizes her mom’s past can open doors she never dreamed possible, doors that can help her be with Edmund. But, with everything now unveiled, Evie starts to crack under the pressure of new family responsibilities and the realization that her perfect prince may want her for all the wrong reasons.
This book. This book. This book was touted as a cross between The Princess Diaries and The Royal We, the former of which I loved and the latter of which received favourable reviews. Yet this book is quite possibly one of the most frustrating YA novels I’ve read in my entire life, and this review could have just as easily been titled ‘all the things wrong with contemporary romance’.
The main reason why I didn’t DNF The Heir and the Spare is because I was incredibly excited about it last year—the premise, after all, is fun. Not terribly original for sure, but fun (when done right). I’m definitely not against a romance involving modern royals, but with a plot as cliched and predictable as this one, the characters better be a) interesting or b) likeable.
The characters in this book, unfortunately, are neither. Evie, the main character, is nineteen-going-on-twenty but really behaves like a fifteen-year-old:
- Half the book is her swooning over how much she’d like to kiss Edmund, the love interest, and how hot he is.
- She calls people she dislikes with nicknames such as “Miss BitchyBoobsInYourFace” and “Haggy Hagatha Clarice”, both of which are literal quotes from the book.
- She’s incredibly shallow and indecisive—one scene she’ll be swooning over how hot Edmund is and how much she’d like to kiss him, and the next she’ll be pulling away from him because oh my god he’s a freakin’ prince. This doesn’t happen only once or twice; this is literally the pattern that repeats itself over the whole book.
- She’s entitled—she feels slighted when people don’t talk about or aren’t interested in things that are important to her and can’t understand why.
Edmund, the love interest, isn’t any better. He’s indecisive, noncommittal, and of course, universally loved and swooned-over even though he’s not that much of a catch. He’s also 100% guilty of the whole “you’re not like other girls” trope. When he first meets Evie, he finds her different and surprising because—get this—she, a ‘charming American girl’, likes museums. There are so many things wrong about this but let me just explain what it (and this particular trope) implies:
- Most girls don’t like going to museums. (Not true—plenty do, and it’s impossible to stereotype something as specific as this.)
- If a girl doesn’t like going to the museum, she’s boring and unattractive. (Not true—just because a girl doesn’t like museums or history does not mean that she’s unintellectual, boring and unattractive.)
- If a girl goes to the museum but only when she has to, she’s boring and unattractive. (Also not true for the same reason as above.)
- ‘Charming American girls’ don’t like museums. (Not true, and also really presumptive and kind of racist—there’s nothing inherently un-charming or un-American about liking museums.)
Stereotyping people is not Edmund’s only sin. My biggest problem with him is how he treats Evie and the girls who like him. It’s fine and dandy to take your time to figure out your feelings, but you shouldn’t be stringing people along. He runs so hot and cold all the time that his lack of explicit commitment and communication is literally the source of 90% of the drama in this book. He’s also pushy, childish, and can’t take no for an answer.
The other characters, sadly, are cardboard cut-outs without any real personalities. Evie has a couple of girl friends, all of whom sound exactly the same and conveniently only pop in to the story when Evie needs some intervention, validation or support. Her father is a Good Guy™ and therefore behaves like a Good Guy™. The mean girls in this story, of course, are Mean Girls™: they’ve got big boobs that Evie mentions disdainfully numerous times, they throw themselves at the protagonist’s love interest, and they treat other girls as threats.
Plot-wise, The Heir and the Spare is rife with issues as well. Evie is a ‘royal’ (I use this term loosely here because what Evie is isn’t actually a royal, but a noble). This isn’t a spoiler because it’s literally written on the cover, but somehow, Evie discovers this fact at about the 70% mark. So for the first 70% of the book, we (the readers) are ‘entertained’ with Evie trying to discover This Big, Totally Obvious Thing We All Know. There is no anticipation, no big reveal, no tension.
The tension, instead, lies in Evie and Edmund’s relationship: the yes and the no, the pull-and-push, the will-they-won’t they. This book focuses so heavily on romance that everything else is sacrificed to make room for this couple to grow—and sadly, even that didn’t happen in an interesting way.
Evie and Edmund might be young adults, but their relationship is one of very young, inexperienced teenagers. They fall in love in what feels like two seconds. They don’t communicate at all and tend to assume the worst of each other. Instead of asking the other out, one would go on a date or grab dinner with someone else to make them jealous. Instead of just erring on the safe side, they tend to knowingly hide things and risk the other’s negative emotions later. They also can’t seem to decide what it is they actually want, and when they do, they have zero clue how to express it. This by far is the most infuriating aspect of The Heir and the Spare.
There is also [spoiler] attempted rape [/end spoiler] in this book that was used only to fuel jealousy and drama between the couple, which in my opinion was completely unnecessary and honestly did more harm than good to the story.
This kind of thing trivialises and cheapens a very serious, very real, very traumatising event into something that can be solved in the blink of an eye, especially since it was not mentioned again afterwards and Evie was, of course, magically healed by the power of Edmund’s kisses. (I wish I was joking. I am not. This really did happen.)
It’s actually difficult for me to say something good about this novel, because I really didn’t enjoy it. The cover is cute, I guess, and Albright’s writing style was alright, if not very light, though it suffered from the old ‘not enough showing, too much telling’ problem. It’s also incredibly repetitive—it’s written in first person from Evie’s perspective, yet often echoes or precedes a lot of her thoughts, which are italicised inconsistently and often for no real reason. Examples (these are all from different pages):
I glanced back and saw Edmund watching us with a scowl. I felt bad. For about a second. He was in this situation of his own doing. Make up your damn mind. Date Jax or date me. Just pick one.
If only it was that simple for Edmund and me. He’d never once called me his girlfriend, yet I knew I was way more than just a friend.
Just being around him brought back memories and made me nervous. What does he think of me now?
My point was, why are some of these sentences italicised and some not? Where is the difference? What makes a sentence ‘Evie’s thought’ and another ‘Evie’s narration’? This is just sloppy editing and one of those things that could have been easily fixed. What a major, major letdown.
This review unfortunately has turned into a full-blown rant, but honestly, I’m kind of glad I did it because The Heir and the Spare highlights so many things that I think is wrong with the contemporary romance genre, and it’s given me a reason to speak out about these things. This might be an underestimated, over-saturated category, but it should be better than this.