Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 (rounded up to 5)
Anthony Redbourn, Earl of Crofton,and Sebastian Hewell have found happiness and love with each other during the perilous era of Queen Elizabeth. A marriage born out of politics and deception, Sebastian has to play the role of his twin sister, Bronwyn, as the wife of the Earl in order for them to be together. Just as they had adjusted to their married state and become a family than another threat arrives at Crofton Hall. Someone has started to spread rumors that Lady “Bronwyn” is a witch who used her powers to ensnare her rich husband. As the rumors gather momentum, small herbs and items used in witchcraft are planted to make sure that Bronwyn/Sebastian is investigated by the Sheriff. Such an accusation would ensure that Anthony and Sebastian’s deception would be uncovered when the Sheriff arrives to take “Bronwyn” off to jail, destroying them both.
While Anthony and Sebastian try to figure out who is behind the plot against them, they decide that they have no other course but to “lay Bronwyn to rest” sooner than they had anticipated. But first they have to delay the Sheriff’s investigation while beginning their own, and all the while planning Bronwyn’s final illness and funeral. With so much at stake, including their heads, will they be able to find a way to stay together long after “Lady Bronwyn” has been laid to rest?
The first two stories in the Crofton Chronicles were wonderful, somewhat frothy fare that I throughly enjoyed. Rebecca Cohen put her two main characters through a romantic romp while staying true to the period and the perilous politics found at Queen Elizabeth’s court. In The Actor and the Earl and Duty to the Crown, we have gotten to know and love actor Sebastian Hewell and the Earl of Crofton, Anthony Redbourne. First as their planned marriage was designed by court politics and Sebastian’s uncle. Sebastian’s decision to impersonate his identical twin sister, Bronwyn, was born out of desperation when she decided to elope with her blacksmith love. Astonishingly, Sebastian’s deception was met with delight by Anthony whose proclivities for men had to remain hidden. Their subsequent marriage and love surprised them both with its happiness and success while delighting us with all the obstacles and adjustments that had to be made by both men and the few staff in on the switch. From the wigs and corsets that plagued Sebastian to the gossips and maneuverings at court, all the details Cohen included just added depth and authenticity that was remarkable as it was subtle.
From the beginning of the Crofton Chronicles, Rebecca Cohen crafted a lively, entertaining romance that spread across two years. And while she was entertaining us with their lusty antics, jealous stages, and finally love, she was also educating, however gently, about the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First and the politics of that era. Court intrigue was only as far away as a pot of vermilion or ceruse, face paint favored by the Queen and demanded at court. The court and social intrigue seen was due to Anthony’s title and status as a Queen favorite. But the reader is also steeped in stage and plays of William Shakespeare as well as the construction of the Globe Theatre because of Sebastian’s profession as an actor. We are lucky to get both of their worlds and everything in between. It brought these stories to life just as assuredly it did Cohen’s characters. I loved all the minutiae and atmosphere as much as I did the characters. It never felt overdone. Instead it came across as an intelligent, marvelous bit of staging.
But unlike the first two novels, Forever Hold His Peace concerns the dissolution of a marriage through a “death” instead of two men in love adjusting to their union and deception. The first two were fun, and while danger was never far away, the romance and happiness were at the center. Not so here. Forever Hold His Peace is a much darker, sadder story. As it has to be. Sebastian and Anthony’s deception was never expected to last and always present was the idea that “Bronwyn” came with a time limitation. So their happiness was always a fragile thing. Now, someone has maneuvered Sebastian and Anthony into killing off Bronwyn sooner then they had anticipated. The plot that forces their hand is a ruthless and potentially deadly one. Rebecca Cohen’s knowledge of that era is displayed in the references to the herbal plants and roots that also have “witchcraft” overtones, like the mandrake. The very idea of witchcraft was taken seriously and the end result for the person identified as a witch was horrific.
There are so many plot threads at work here. The plan to force Anthony and Sebastian to get rid of Bronwyn, their investigation, and Bronwyn’s death. And finally Anthony’s revenge on the person behind it all. And overlaying it all, is the sadness and uncertainty of Sebastian and Anthony at their changing relationship and new status. I was surprised by how much this upset me even though I knew it was coming. From Sebastian’s maid/substitute mother Miriam saying goodbye to the idea of young William losing one more mother, I admit to weeping more than a few tears. But what really put me over the edge was the Epilogue.
Epilogues tend to be hit or miss with me. Either they miss the point of an epilogue entirely or they go too far. I am still trying to decide about the epilogue here. Part of me wants to think it went too far into the future giving me more than I wanted to know and another side of me is content to see how it all played out. I’m still thinking about it so I guess it did its job and then some.
Some elements here felt a tad long, such as intricacies of Anthony’s revenge plot and its resolution. It managed to reveal the opposition to Queen Elizabeth and the plots against her while discussing some of the issues that came from having a “virgin” Queen. I’m not sure it needed all that but enjoyed the information anyway. Still, Forever Hold His Peace is my favorite story of the series, for all its sadness and weight or maybe because of it. The characterizations felt deeper and more layered, perhaps because of the seriousness of the issues they were dealing with. Even Sebastian’s real sister Bronwyn came across more fully realized than ever before. The threat of death will do that. There is room to add to the Crofton Chronicles here as a new heir apparent appears at the end with all of Anthony’s appreciation of men intact. I would love to see Rebecca Cohen continue with the Croftons to see where it may take them, perhaps to the New World and beyond.
Whether that happens or not, I absolutely recommend The Crofton Chronicles to all lovers of m/m romance and m/m historical fiction. Read all the books in the order that they were written to see the romance begin, mature, and perhaps even end in a way. I loved these stories and think you will too. I’m still thinking about them, Anthony and Sebastian. So what does that tell you? They are a most memorable couple. Make your introduction to them today.
book, 200 pages
Published June 16th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published June 15th 2014)
seriesThe Crofton Chronicles #3
Cover art by Anne Cain. My favorite cover of the three stories, love the models and the emotion conveyed. Lovely.
Books in The Crofton Chronicles:
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 Crofton Chronicles #3)