Doppelgangers, look-alikes, and identical twins are one of my favorite literary tropes. There are just too many opportunities for them to stir up the plot: between switching places, mistaken identities, and general chaotic confusion, doppelgangers always add drama.
The tradition of doppelgangers in literature is a long one, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, to Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, to Stephen King’s The Outsider. Below are five modern takes on the trope that continue the tradition of doppelganger shenanigans in new, unpredictable ways.
1. The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: to save her favorite Starfield character, Princess Amara, from being killed off. On the other hand, the actress who plays Amara wouldn’t mind being axed. Jessica Stone doesn’t even like being part of the Starfield franchise—and she’s desperate to leave the intense scrutiny of fandom behind.
Though Imogen and Jess have nothing in common, they do look strangely similar to one another—and a case of mistaken identity at ExcelsiCon sets off a chain of events that will change both of their lives. When the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, with all signs pointing to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. The deal: Imogen will play Jess at her signings and panels, and Jess will help Imogen’s best friend run their booth. But as these “princesses” race to find the script leaker—in each other’s shoes—they’re up against more than they bargained for.
2. The Rule of One by Ashley Saunders and Leslie Saunders
In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life: she has an identical twin sister, Mira.
For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail. But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins. Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives. Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to discover just how far they’ll go in order to stay alive, Ava and Mira rush headlong into a terrifying unknown.
3. Better Together by Christine Riccio
Jamie’s an aspiring standup comic in Los Angeles with a growing case of stage anxiety. Siri’s a stunning ballerina from New Jersey nursing a career-changing injury. They’ve both signed up for the same session at an off-the-grid Re-Discover Yourself Retreat in Colorado. When they run into each other, their worlds turn upside down. Jamie and Siri are sisters, torn apart at a young age by their parent’s volatile divorce. They’ve grown up living completely separate lives: Jamie with their Dad and Siri with their Mom.
Now, reunited after over a decade apart, they hatch a plot to switch places. It’s time they get to know and confront each of their estranged parents. With an accidental assist from some fortuitous magic, Jamie arrives in New Jersey, looking to all the world like Siri, and Siri steps off her flight sporting a Jamie glamour. Alongside a parade of hijinks and budding romance, both girls work to navigate their broken family life and the stresses of impending adulthood.
5. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
5. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, with two members sporting two eerily similar faces, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.
These five sets of doppelgangers bring enough chaos and mischief to leave you seeing double. To read more about twin troublemakers in literature, click here!