By Grace Gardener
Poetic justice is something I will always enjoy. As long as evil and revenge aren’t applauded, I am all for some nice retribution. Things like the rich snob becoming poor, the bully needing help with his math homework, and the arrogant soccer player getting sidelined are very enjoyable to me (to a certain extent, of course). So a book like The Heir and the Spare by Kate Stradlin, wherein a bunch of bullies find out their victim is a princess seemed like an amazing read to me. And it was, in some ways. In other ways, it was extremely uncomfortable and strange.
The situation is this: Iona, second in line to the throne of some kingdom I can’t remember the name of, has a tyrannical older sister who has literally killed people over stupid stuff like an ugly portrait. So her parents, in a dazzling display of wisdom, decide to leave the older daughter be and just send the younger one away to a boarding school for rich aristocrats for a few years. She has to pretend to be some low-rank noble so her sister won’t find her and literally kill her. But wait, there’s more! While there, all of the higher-ranking nobles work together to make everybody’s life a living hell, including that of Iona. The worst bully is Jaovan. Once a year, the teachers all leave, and the students organise a hunt, where the lowranks have to hide and the highranks have to seek except it’s a bit more violent and annoying than just playing hide and seek. Anyway, then a civil war breaks out and Jaovan and his gang are the ones who have to hide in a forest! I liked that. Iona goes back to her country, until a few years later. The war is over, Jaoven is somehow king because everybody else died, and he’s trying to marry Iona’s older sister, Lisenn, so that his country can become strong again.
(((SPOILER ALERT))) The whole country apparently hates Lisenn and loves Iona. They all collaborate in getting Jaoven to marry Lisenn and take her away, so nobody has to get their eyes poked out over burnt toast anymore. I felt this part was pretty unrealistic. There’s just no way nobody slipped up. The people also hide the fact that it’s a tradition in Iona’s family to have two children and then kill the second one when the first becomes ruler. Given the fact that everyone loves Iona, I’d expect them to warn her with more than a nursery song they sing for her. I mean, stage a coup or something? But no, almost every good person in this book is very passive, from Iona herself, to her mother who saw her oldest daughter was becoming a witch and just gave up, to the people.
Jaoven and his cronies’ repentance was not at all convincing. Every time they apologise or do anything nice, they discuss it among themselves beforehand. And every time the reason is that they want to curry favour so Iona won’t reveal their bad behaviour in the past and ruin the marriage deal. At one point the whole gang even lets Iona win at a game so she won’t get mad at them, which was just sad. The first actual sign of love between Iona and Jaoven – yeah, they’re love interests, didn’t you know? – is when they kiss at the very end. Before that, everything could be explained as either simple manners or simpering. Speaking of which: I love a good apology, but the ones in this book were so embarrassing. You do not have to go down on your hands and knees to say sorry. It’s just way too dramatic and also very uncomfortable. When I said I liked poetic justice I didn’t mean absolute humiliation, thank you very much.
The book was also a lot more violent than I had anticipated. Not only was Lisenn an absolute monster who showered some horrendous domestic abuse on her younger sister, there was also a very short torture scene. It cuts away, so you never see anything happen, but to me it felt very dissonant with the rest of the book, where you never really see all too much violence, although, like I said, it is mentioned. At the end, one of the main characters stabs someone, even though it really wasn’t necessary. At first I thought he had simply wounded the person, but no: later he says that he knows how to stab and that the person is definitely going to die. Not that they didn’t deserve it, but the stabbing was completely unnecessary. The casual way it’s mentioned was also jarring: the two main characters literally make out within a few minutes of the revelation.
In the end, the book was enjoyable, but not great on moral standards. Yes, I love a good come-uppance, but this book took it too far for my tastes. The same goes for the violence, which – to me – felt unnecessary and out of tune with the style of the book. It’s a nice standalone, but personally, I’d skip it.