The person next in line to inherit something passed down by blood line, such as a lordship, and who cannot be overtaken by any subsequent birth, as opposed to an heir presumptive, who is next in line but might not be so in the future.

Note that the term heir strictly means one who has inherited something (by blood descent), not someone who is due to when in the future someone dies.

Normally a female cannot be an heir-apparent, because there is always the (at least theoretical) possibility that a son will be born to the present holder. But there is one way in which this can happen. Suppose a lord has an eldest son. That son has a daughter, but then dies before his father. He was formerly the heir-apparent; that position now passes to his daughter. Because her father is dead, he can never have a son who will subsequently dispossess her. So she is guaranteed to succeed (if she lives).

By 'normally' I mean that traditionally, in most European systems of inheritance, younger sons inherit before older daughters. It depends on the country. In France the Salic law prevented any female inheritance to the throne; in Denmark and Sweden in recent generations the law has been changed to allow succession to the throne in order of birth.

English peerages very seldom allow any female holders (the exact nature of who may inherit them is specified in the patent creating the peerage); in Scotland you often do get female peers in their own right, but sons still inherit before daughters. And (in England at any rate) there can only be one daughter as heir: if there are two or more, the peerage goes into abeyance between them until only one heir is left alive. But this is not true of the throne: Elizabeth II inherited solely, despite having a sister Princess Margaret. A recent proposal in the House of Lords to change the two British systems (English and Scottish) was defeated.

Thanks to gn0sis for suggesting clarification on Scandinavia, and to Rudra for pointing out the Salic law applies only to French royalty, not nobility.

Heir Apparent
Vivian Vande Velde
Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, Inc., 2002

A young adult science fiction and fantasy novel, and a good one. While perhaps not destined to be a classic, this is a great book for the young SF/F fan -- and it is truly a SF/F book, containing both a convincing future and an exciting sword-and-sorcery tale.

In the not-too-distant future, buses drive themselves and carefully advise their passengers about the best stops, whether the passengers are interested or not. Trendy youth wear mood-sensing clothing and miniature shoulder dragons, which may or may not be house-trained. And those teenagers who can afford it enjoy the full-immersion adventures that can only be found by merging your nervous system with a supercomputer. Heir Apparent is the story of a computer game gone wrong.

Fourteen-year-old Giannine Bellisario is generally disenchanted with the future, with the sole exception of the full-immersion computer games. She isn't one one of those who spend all of their free time in virtual reality, but she certainly recognizes the draw of a good adventure. So she decides to try out a new offering at the local Gaming Center; Heir Apparent, a game of knights and kings, scheming plots and assassinations, wizards and dragons. Which is interesting enough, but it gets much more exciting when the game breaks.

And then, we leave the science fiction story and enter a fantasy story. Giannine has her brain welded into the Middle Ages, having to live the life of a poor peasant girl who finds that she is in fact the heir to the throne. It is a hard life, and many of those around her want to end it early -- so they do. This is still a computer game, so when she dies she is simply sent back to the beginning to try again... and again, and again, and again. She has only one brief message from the outer world; if she stays in the game too long, she will die. The only way out is to win the game. And she doesn't know how long is too long.

This makes for an interesting story; she lives the same couple of days over and over again, each time with minor changes. She learns a number of tricks and secrets of the game, but none of them obviously lead to victory, and most of them take disturbingly long to play through. The game is very much reminiscent of a traditional computer game with familiar puzzles and plot chunks, but it is also a well-developed fantasy world, with well-rounded characters and numerous plots and sub-plots, schemes and problems that are worthy of any more traditional fantasy world.

As a book for 10- 15-year-olds, there is very little to critique about this book. It is a great read, and manages to avoid the obvious trap of becoming repetitious. It is just a bit girly, but not enough, I think, to make it a disappointment to male readers. There is a strong and rather redundant theme of Giannine's feelings of abandonment towards her father, but while this stands out, it is not overwhelming. It is worth noting that the bulk of the book is set in the fantasy world, and the parts of the story set in the future, while well-written and interesting, are probably not enough to satisfy someone who has a strong preference for science fiction.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to YA fiction fans, and I suspect that if you are a fan of Patricia C. Wrede or Diana Wynne Jones, you will like this book. Unfortunately, I have not yet read any of Vivian Vande Velde's other books, and can't say how it compares, but it is certainly good enough to convince me to seek out more of her books in the future.

Heir Apparent shares a world with User Unfriendly and Deadly Pink.

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