Book Review

The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath

This was one of Sarah’s picks for this month’s Hide Your Wallet, and boy howdy, was it cringey. (Sarah: “DAMMIT.”)

Edward, younger identical twin brother of the Earl of Greyling has come home from a trip to Africa where his brother has been killed in an accident. Instead of coming home as Edward, though, he’s pretending to be his brother (Albert), because Julia, his brother’s wife, is pregnant, and Albert, as he lay dying, told Edward to pretend to be him so Julia wouldn’t get so upset that it would cause a miscarriage. (She’s had multiple miscarriages before, so they feel this is a legit concern.)

Of course, Edward has had ~feelings~ for Julia since his brother started courting her, but he’s tried to cover those ~feelings~ up by being kind of a dick, and also he travels a lot so he’s often out of the country. When he comes back posing as Albert, Julia feels like maybe there’s been a big change in him, but chalks that up to, “they’ve been apart for two months and he’s had experiences in Africa that changed him so…. he’s just being weird.” It doesn’t occur to her that it might be Edward because WHO DOES THAT.

Of course, posing as Julia’s husband puts Edward into some awkward situations that he doesn’t entirely hate, and he has to throw himself on the near sexy-times sword or she’ll know that he’s not Albert, right?

Sarah’s comment on this was, “The plot summary lines up a bunch of serious obstacles to the happy ending, so I’m very curious how it’ll be pulled off.”

It’s pulled off (kind of) with a LOT of cringes on my part. There’s a thing with twin-switch books that always concerns me: the hero and heroine cannot have sex until AFTER the reveal. It’s a consent issue. Julia would be consenting to sex with Albert, not Edward. Never mind that she had no real reason  to think that this wasn’t Edward. HE knew what she was doing and it’s just icky. Now, they don’t ACTUALLY bang until after the reveal, but they get DAMN close (like, the reveal happens mid-foreplay) and I was cringing because it was horribly awkward and kinda rapey.

Edward doesn’t really have an exit strategy. He’s hoping that the baby will be a boy, so he wouldn’t ACTUALLY be the new Earl, and once the baby is born, he’ll tell her and then….he’ll go away? He is hamster-wheeling trying to figure out what to do, which is complicated by the fact that he REALLY likes being around Julia and likes having an excuse to make out with her.

The other complication thrown into the mix is that under British law at the time, a man could not marry his brother’s widow (nor could a woman marry her sister’s widower). It was considered incest (at least legally). So even when everything comes out in the open, there’s still another HUGE obstacle to an HEA.

I’m not gonna lie, and I feel like I need to apologize for this: I was legitimately concerned, after all of the discussions we’ve had online over the idea of the HEA not being mandatory for a romance (Uh, it is), that maybe this would be a book without an HEA. I should have had more faith. I should have. But I was scared.

Show Spoiler
The legal solution is kind of a “Oh, here’s a work-around” but that’s honestly the answer to a lot of legal problems (and the fact that the easiest work-around is only available to people with a large amount of disposable income is pretty accurate, too).

The problem of how Julia can forgive Edward for the MASSIVE lie he’s pulled on her is solved in a manner that’s less believable. Yes, she had feelings for him (that she hid behind disdain) and he had feelings for her, but it seems like she just needed a few weeks to go, “Well….. okay, lets give this a shot.”   It also helps that Albert basically gives them both permission, but EDWARD FUCKING PRETENDED TO BE HIS BROTHER FOR MONTHS. WHY WOULD YOU FUCK THAT GUY.

Look, a small part of the C- grade is a casualty of the HEA war. If I hadn’t been scared of not getting an HEA (which, to be fair, there’s never been any indication that Heath would do that) and if I wasn’t spending time being worried about it, I would almost certainly have enjoyed it more. There are plenty of times where I’m not sure how the conflicts will be resolved but I know it will be, and that the resolution will make sense, so I can enjoy the journey (Milan’s Unveiled comes to mind).

I enjoy Heath’s writing, and she makes interesting, layered characters, and maybe upon a reread when I am not worried about if I’m going to get my promised HEA or not I’d enjoy this more. But the cringeworthyness of the whole twin-switch/consent issue is a HUGE obstacle, and I’m not sure I can get beyond that.

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The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath

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  1. 1
    Ren Benton says:
    +29

    There’s a line I remember in a movie I forget. Somebody filled out a quiz in a fashion magazine and said, “You lose one point because your entire relationship is based on a lie,” but other than that, everything was super.

    I have had more than one occasion in real life to say “You lose one point because your entire relationship is based on a lie.” I have never followed it up with “but other than that, everything is super.”

    I am firmly on Team WHY WOULD YOU FUCK THAT GUY. (I would buy a jersey.) Even after the reveal. “Yes, he lied to me about his very identity so I can never believe anything he says, but I have pants feelings and don’t know how to take care of them myself, so I suppose I must forgive.”

    No. Nope. Noap. Nopity dopity. Girl. You have fingers that will never deceive you. Introduce them to your pants feelings and evict that con artist from your life.

    I cannot stop thinking about all the times I’ve heard some variation of “See, the one time I was honest after embarking upon a prolonged fast from the truth, you punish me for it. Clearly, you leave me no choice but to perpetually abuse your trust.” It’s printed on the back of every liar license. They have it memorized. Liars = no bueno.

    WHY WOULD YOU FUCK THAT GUY.

  2. 2
    Diandra says:
    +6

    I’ve been reading the Hellions of Havisham series, and when I saw that the next book would be with the twin, and would center on the “pretending to be his brother” trope I Noped out of that faster than you could blink. I decided that if this series continues, I would skip this book. I know that a lot of romance titles start with a misunderstanding, omission of truth, or outright lie and that is sometimes the obstacle the couple has to overcome to get their HEA, but the level of deceit in pretending to be another person, and to be intimately involved with someone while doing so?! NOPE NOPE NOPE.

  3. 3
    cleo says:
    +4

    That’s the problem I had with the Eloisa James book with this trope – it was the third Essex Sisters book. And I felt like the hero NEVER got consent and he never really came clean or apologized. And it made me mad.

    Actually, I had a similar problem with You’ve Got Mail – even though the Tom Hanks character didn’t have a twin he did have an alter ego and he just lied, lied, lied.

  4. 4
    cleo says:
    +6

    @Ren Benton – your rant made me giggle snort in public. Go Team!

  5. 5
    Christine says:
    +12

    I have to confess I have this feeling a lot if I try to apply any normal, real world feelings to a lot of romance novels instead of just accepting some as fantasy land. Take “Lord Of Scoundrels” by Loretta Chase for example, which regularly gets the number one spot on romance books polls. SHE SHOOTS HIM. Yeah, I know he is horrible and she is a “strong woman” blah, blah but she DELIBERATELY SHOOTS HIM. I don’t care who does the shooting in a relationship, male or female, why would you f- that person?
    The whole twin thing is creepy and the only way I think it could have not been *AS* creepy is if at the “big reveal” the heroine said “Yeah I knew it was you all along and I was playing the game too because I also had feelings”.

  6. 6
    Gigi says:
    +5

    I read the blurb and thought no, no way this could work. And I guess I was right. I will be avoiding this like the plague.

  7. 7
    Ellie says:
    +3

    So much of this book was just not OK. Between all of the cringe-worthy moments I basically just kept reading to see how Lorraine Heath was going to write her way out. Especially when I realized I only had two chapters left and was like “oh, there’s going to be some hand-waving problem solving and everything will be fine.” Yeah, but even with the required HEA epilogue I was still wondering “how on earth did they get past this?” Not just personally, but publicly. When you stack this next to the amnesia issues in “Once More, My Darling Rogue” Lorraine Heath is writing some uncomfortable material, consent-wise.

  8. 8
    Meg says:
    +3

    DAMMIT.

  9. 9
    Barb in Maryland says:
    +4

    And yes, this was one of the three romances that Sarah MacLean featured in her recent romance column in The Washington Post. I was familiar with the legal tangle re:marrying your brother’s widow, your late wife’s sister, etc, so I knew there was a work around for that problem. I have to agree that the twin switcheroo is creepy. (For a different take on the twin thing, there’s always the classic ‘Prisoner of Zenda’, with the noble sacrificing non-HEA).

  10. 10
    the eleventh hour says:
    +4

    I love twins in romance, so I was all excited until I read that he tricks her into thinking he’s his brother.

    No, no, no, no, no. C’mon.

    Why is the twin plot device used so badly in romance novels? I feel like it could be great, if executed well, but so often it’s horrendous.

  11. 11
    Jennifer says:
    +3

    I love Lorraine Heath, but the premise of this book has been making me hesitant for awhile. I will probably still give it a read though it will be a library request.

  12. 12
    chacha1 says:
    +17

    This kind of storyline is a big bucket of NOPE for me.

    I’ve never been really close to a pair of identical twins, much less had sex (sequentially) with a pair of identical twins, but I just can’t get my head around not knowing he is not the right one. If she’s had a bunch of miscarriages, then they’ve had a bunch of sex (and, one presumes, foreplay). That is some pretty revealing stuff, and I don’t mean just physically.

    I don’t care how “identical” two people may look, they never BEHAVE exactly the same way. No matter how similar their voices may be, they don’t TALK exactly the same way. Their personalities are not identical. They may both like the same kinds of things, they may choose similar careers, they may choose similar mates but they are not actually two copies of the same person. I don’t buy it.

    It would have made a whole lot more sense if the author had taken the hard way out and had the living twin remain in Africa writing letters home as the dead twin. Impersonation by mail. Right up to the point that she is safely delivered and then oh hey, your husband actually died but he swore me to secrecy because he cared so much about your safety and the baby’s. That could all happen in, say, an epistolary interlude between Husband & Wife Getting Pregnant/Husband leaving for adventure and Twin Coming Home with Bad News. Meanwhile the widow and second twin could have been falling in love through the mail.

    There, I fixed it.

  13. 13
    jimthered says:
    +3

    I’m just curious: For Lisa Kleypas fans (spoiler ahead for one of her older works; though the title is technically a spoiler), did anyone have similar issues to the ones above with her novel STRANGER IN HER ARMS? It also had an identical twin-ish situation (half brother), but I suspect the deception is more acceptable/forgivable because in that one, the original man was a total asshat (drunk, adulterer, even rapist (forcing himself on his wife)), while the pretender was considerate, loving, and of course a total studmuffin.

  14. 14
    mel burns says:
    +3

    Excellent review RHG! This book was a big fail for me too!

    @chacha1: Absolutely!

  15. 15
    chacha1 says:
    +8

    @ mel: thanks! LOL I am full of fix today.

    Had more thoughts re: the physical deception is extra squicky because *they were twin brothers* and wouldn’t the surviving twin be pretty deeply grieving? I mean, if they were so close that the elder brother would ask his twin to take on such a deception? Does that get dealt with at all??

    Gaahh. I’ll never know ’cause I’ll never read the thing.

  16. 16
    +1

    I think I read this one. At least of the deceased Albert was something of a jerk and the heroine is surprised at how nice he is all of a sudden.

    I had all the same problems with this book as well as one of my own personal pet peeves. LACK OF RESEARCH. If a writer is going to place a novel withing a certain historical period, then the writer MUST research. Are the laws of consanguinity that unknown? We used to have them in the USA, too.

  17. 17
    +1

    Oh, I forgot to say something about the Laws of Consanguinity: it’s hard ot believe that anyone who claims to know anything about British history can forget the laws of consanguinity because it was the very basis of Henry VIII’s case against Catherine of Aragon: that his brother had been married to her first.

  18. 18
    Tresgrumpy says:
    +4

    @jimthered
    I actually tried to read the book and I never made it to the big reveal because I knew the heroine was being fundamentally deceived in a way that felt weird to me. His internal monologue about lying was just… Weird? I’m also not a huge Kleypas fan in general, and think that her heroes are kinda too much.

  19. 19
    kkw says:
    +3

    @jimthered Twin switching scenarios do not bother me (in fiction)(obvs it’s a totally reasonable thing to find unacceptable anywhere, I just love the crazysauce) so I may not be the right person to answer your question, but this review definitely made me think of that Kleypas book, and thank you for producing the name of it for me!

  20. 20
    kitkat9000 says:
    +3

    Thanks, RHG, for the review.

    @Ren Benton: Thank you for making me laugh out loud. So true. And I’m also going to use that line.

    @chacha1: So right on the personality aspect, a fact which almost all romance authors (who’ve written ‘twin’ stories) I’ve read have failed to grasp. And I do not understand why as it’s so basic. We are none of us exactly alike anyone else regardless of outward appearances.

    I would happily read your version multiple times because that would absolutely work and ring true. The fact that epistolary storylines are catnip to me is just bonus.

    As an aside, as soon as I read the first exchange between the bro/sis in-laws, I knew the older brother would die. Ms Heath couldn’t have projected her intentions any louder had she used a bullhorn. And although I’ve loved or at least liked a hell of a lot pretty much everything I’ve read from her, this gave me pause. I think that had more to do with how immature Edward was in dealing with Julia which goes all the way back to when he met her for the first time. He was just generally an asshat.

    I probably won’t bother with this, though if I do it’ll definitely be a library read.

  21. 21
    Susan says:
    +3

    @Ren Benton: Pants feelings. 🙂

  22. 22
    sui says:
    +2

    I decided to skip this book even if I loved the previous book. Aside deom the creepy twin switch, I’m not really partial of stories that kills of a perfectly nice character to get another HEA.

  23. 23
    Mary Star says:
    +2

    @chacha1 I totally agree regarding recognition of people, or at least feeling like something (besides the obvious) is up.

    I had strong antagonistfeelinfs towards Grayson in Drop Dead Diva because of that. The premise of the show is a young engaged model (Deb) dies and comes back in the body of a size 16 lawyer, Jane. The show was awesome, but Grayson’s lack of *anything* towards Jane for seasons made me livid. Maybe he wouldn’t figure out the reincarnation thing, but he damn well should have felt at least a weird draw to her. That’s what I loved about the new Freaky Friday. Ok, there’s a *lot* I loved about it 🙂 Jake was super attracted to Anna’s mother because she was *Anna*. The chemistry was there regardless of the body switch.

  24. 24
    Mary Star says:
    +2

    Oh, to clarify, Grayson and Deb were engaged

  25. 25
    LovelloftheWolves says:
    +2

    Eeeeehhhhh… Probably not reading this one. I also find the twin-switcheroo squicky.

    I couldn’t finish Lynsay Sands “The Countess” (which was reviewed here? And yet, didn’t mention how squicky the twin-switching was?) because of the fact that the heroine DID NOT KNOW the man bedding her WASN’T her husband (but his twin). Its just… Its not okay. There’s something super important about that missing information – sure she has pants feelings and he has pants feelings, but that level of deceit should definitely be tantamount to lack-of-consent.

    The way Sands got around the “doesn’t she know” business was that the her husband never slept with the heroine, not once. And the heroine attributes his “sudden personality change” to his ‘near-death-experience’ and the fact that she doesn’t want to question it? Like… I just stopped reading after that point. Couldn’t finish. Maybe the twin confesses immediately afterwards? Maybe she sees the mole on his butt? But I really couldn’t go much further to find out.

  26. 26
    Erica says:
    +2

    @Ren Benton

    “No. Nope. Noap. Nopity dopity. Girl. You have fingers that will never deceive you. Introduce them to your pants feelings and evict that con artist from your life.”

    WORD. I am going to print this out on little cards and give it to everyone I see. Also perhaps embroider it on a throw pillow.

  27. 27
    lora says:
    +2

    I can’t even with the twin books after my traumatizing experience with Her Fearful Symmetry. Do. Not. Read. That. Book. For reals.

  28. 28
    Vasha says:
    +3

    There’s a Daphne Du Maurier book called The Scapegoat where a guy is impersonating someone else and sleeps with his mistress. They’re not even identical twins. At the end of the book, the mistress says that she knew from the instant she saw him that he wasn’t the same guy, but didn’t say anything because, I forget why. She also says that she likes him better than the original. But it’s not a romance and they don’t stay together. It’s a good book, kind of dark. Doesn’t shy away from confronting questionable ethics.

  29. 29
    Carolyn says:
    +2

    The only reason I have this book (the only Lorraine Heath I own, or should I say rent?)is that I was curious how they got around the ‘do not marry your inlaw’ prohibition. It now appears to be a waste of my money, although I may skim the last couple of chapter to how they DID get around it.

    There is a twin story I can recommend though and that is Georgette Heyer’s False Colors. Nothing skeevy about this story except maybe the mother’s choice of fianceé …

  30. 30
    RevMelindaPDX says:
    +2

    Just have to mention “The Switch” by Emma Wildes which explores the “twins trading places” trope with a more frankly erotic flavor. I quite liked it. Perhaps the setup seemed less objectionable to me in the erotic context where outlandishness and dubious consent are more frequently plot features? (At least in my–admittedly limited–experience it seems to be so).

  31. 31
    Madge says:
    +4

    I love the old school crazysauce of The Earl Takes All. Love, like life, is messy and weird and awesome and sometimes difficult. The Earl Takes All is all these things. It’s also an imperfect book, and, judging from her afterword, Lorraine Heath knew this, knew that she was gonna get flak for the subject matter, but published it anyway. I like that she didn’t shy away from this fact, or the subject matter; that she kept her anti-hero, Edward, true to himself – bad decision making and all – while allowing him a character arc that made him grow the fuck up, face his ghosts and put his past behind him. I like that the heroine, Julia, wasn’t a harridan or a victim. The epilogue is one of the best I have ever read in a romance novel.

    Granted, Edward’s deception lasted for half the book, which, for those who have read the book, probably was way too long. If Heath had shortened the time that Julia was in the dark about her husband’s death, cutting back on the sexual intimacy between Edward and Julia until after the reveal, the (non)reader reaction would probably be better. But props to Heath for having an imperfect hero and heroine, for updating a common romantic trope, and for following her Muse.

  32. 32
    Ellie says:
    +4

    This plot is still bothering me. And it could have been done so differently. Why have the whole mauled-by-a-gorilla death? Have him washed away in a flood or something. Then when Edward pretending to be Albert gets sick with the flu have “Albert” “die,” then have Edward “return” from Africa, oops that body “Albert” brought back was a guide/valet/red shirt who borrowed my jacket and that’s why you thought it was me. Then proceed with the whole marrying the sister-in-law, go to Switzerland, etc. I’m starting to think that Lorraine Heath started with the premise of them having to get married in Switzerland and wrote backward from there.

  33. 33
    Imelda Evans says:
    +2

    @chacha1 I went to school with two sets of identical twins. I didn’t know them well but I could tell them apart. The pair I shared some classes with I could tell apart at a distance. They were nothing like each other. And I have identical twin nephews. They are very identical physically, but I’ve always been able to see small differences and they aren’t the same person. If they did manage to convince a wife that one was the other, it would be by a very deliberate act of deception which would make the deception worse.

  34. 34
    Rebecca says:
    +1

    @chacha1 – I love the epistolary romance idea, but actually I once taught a pair of identical twins who I could NOT tell apart physically, and who had very similar physical mannerisms. The only way I was able to tell which was which was by their handwriting – which was COMPLETELY different. (I used to glance quickly at their open notebooks to see which one I was talking to. It got so I could recognize their handwriting even upside down.) Now that I think of it, they’d always gone to school together, so their handwriting must have been the only way they felt comfortable expressing individuality. So in fact handwritten letters might scream someone’s identity much louder than their presence, though it does get around the consent issue. (We’re so used to reading emails that we forget that impersonating a letter writer involved as much effort as a physical disguise.)

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