Rating: 4 stars out of 5
When Elizabethan actor Sebastian Hewel’s twin sister Bronwyn elopes unexpectedly, it leaves him and his uncle in a huge mess. His uncle had accepted money from the Earl of Crofton for her hand in marriage. That money was to pay off Sebastian’s father’s debt to his uncle. Now with one shocking action, everything his uncle had arranged was in jeopardy and that was money that the poor actor had no way of paying back. His cousin’s solution? For Sebastian to take his sister’s place at meeting between the Earl and Bronwyn prior to the wedding to give them time to find Bronwyn and bring her back.
For Anthony Redbourn, Earl of Crofton, a marriage is just the thing he needs to quiet the voices at court about his “peculiarities” , sexual appetites that could cost him his head. Queen Elizabeth will only approve of marriages to families whose loyalty to her is unquestionable. The Hewels are just such a family and the marriage to Bronwyn is the perfect solution.
At the meeting between “Bronwyn” and Anthony nothing goes as planned. Sebastian finds the Earl not only handsome but shrewdly intelligent as Anthony guesses at the real identity behind the skirts. But instead of anger and outrage, the Earl applauds the deception and suggests an arrangement. Sebastian will marry the Earl and play the part of his sister for a year. And if the arrangement includes the benefits of a marriage bed for both, even better given their proclivities and the lethal consequences should they be found out.
Sebastian is warned by those in the know not to fall for the Earl because of his inability to remain satisfied by one partner. But what happens when the heart isn’t listening and Sebastian finds himself falling in love for the first and only time in his life.
I always approach a historical fiction story with trepidation. Why? Because quite a few authors I have read forget the first rule of historical fiction is an accurate setting and an attention to detail. Historical fiction of any type is, in my opinion, one of the hardest genres to write. Not only does the author have the usual elements to create and incorporate, such as plot, characters, and setting, but in addition the historical aspect of any work must include an authenticity of that era to make it believable. To render a historical story authentic an author should pay particular attention to details such as the type of clothes worn, laws and societal norms, art, music, architecture, and yes, even dialog. To get it right means research, research, and more research. You would be amazed how often that doesn’t happen. Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone is put in the wrong year. Dates are mixed up along with royal families, scandals, and types of dress. And when that happens and is spotted, then it almost always ruins the story as time is spent searching for more errors than is spent involved in the plot and characters with the reader thinking…”well, if they got that (fill in the blank) wrong, what else will I find…”
Why do I point all this out? Because Rebecca Cohen gets it right in The Actor and the Earl. And I can’t begin to tell you how much that increased my enjoyment of this already entertaining tale. Some of the historically accurate highlights were the mention of premier pamphleteer Thomas Nashe’s The Choice of Valentines and Philip Sydney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. The Globe is almost finished construction, and Queen Elizabeth holds court with a face painted white using ceruse and vermillion for the lips and cheeks. Cohen slides these facts into her story with a subtly I appreciated and in a manner that helps to set the time frame for her story. I love it when authors get it right without making it seem like an information dump. Great job.
So with her background and setting firmly in place, Rebecca Cohen then goes on to give the reader some wonderful characters to follow and root for. First off is 20 year struggling actor Sebastian Hewell. Sebastian rebelled against his uncle’s plans for him after his father perished and left him with debts. Sebastian has worked for years as an actor but at his age, romantic roles (the female ones) are getting scarce. I fell in love with Sebastian in the back dressing room of the theater where he was working. He feels young, ruefully aware of his waning future and still determined to do it on his own. Such vulnerability in Sebastian works to pull in the reader’s affections and keep us engaged throughout the story.
Another astonishing twist is his sister, Bronwyn. In most stories, Bronwyn would be slender, gorgeous, and extremely feminine, Not so here. Bronwyn is plainfaced (as is Sebastian supposedly), straightforward, blunt, a true force of nature. I loved her. The scenes with her, Sebastian and Anthony were priceless, especially when she is putting the Earl in his place with a “fat assed pig” bit of name calling. Did I want more of Bronwyn? Why, yes I did!
Anthony Redbourn was a character that left more questions in my mind then I felt the story answered. There were hints of a special role he played for Queen Elizabeth that never came forward. Is Anthony a spy perhaps? We don’t know, only that he is favored at court and on call for the Queen at her whim. I loved the accurate picture Cohen paints of London at that time. Smelly and rank, especially in the summer, people fled to their country estates to escape the heat and the odors that overpower you in the city. It came across as just as unpleasant as it probably was, especially for the women who had to travel by coach. The Earl’s estate is beautifully described along with the dinners served, which made me sort of queasy. Ah, the picky tastes of the modern person. Still for all the authenticity framing the character, it was the character himself that was a little lacking. A man in his 30’s, arrogant and confident, his switchover to impulsive and jealous felt surprising.
I wish we had more of a romance between Sebastian and Anthony, although the sex was plentiful. I believed in them as a couple and just wished for a little more of a foundation to base their love on then the brief interludes we got. There are also some elements here sure to upset those readers who like their pairings chaste and of the “cleaving only to each other” type. Anthony is a “womanizer” and a flirt, that’s not going to change overnight and doesn’t. There are some holes in the plot with questions about how gullible the upper classes would be with Bronwyn and Sebastian switching in and out of their role. But those were my only quibbles and my enjoyment in this lighthearted historical romp didn’t falter because of them.
There are already three stories in this series to date. I have listed all below. I am already on to the next one to see how Sebastian and Anthony are faring and will let you know how that works out. In the meantime, if you want a pleasurable, accurate historical romance, then The Actor and the Earl just might be the story for you. Don’t expect a lot of drama or mystery, perhaps that’s coming next. This is the beginning of a romance….let’s see where Rebecca Cohen will take us next.
Cover art by Anne Cain. Cain’s cover is a wonderful representation of the story. Sebastian’s looking pretty good in both genders.
ebook, 1st Edition, 206 pages
Published November 30th 2012 by Dreamspinner Press (first published November 2012)
original titleThe Actor and the Earl
ISBN 1623801516 (ISBN13: 9781623801519)
seriesThe Crofton Chronicles #1
Books in The Crofton Chronicles Series are in the order they were written and should be read:
The Actor and the Earl (The Actor and the Earl #1)
Duty to the Crown (The Actor and the Earl #2)
Forever Hold His Peace (The Actor and the Earl #3)