Review: The Actor and the Earl by Rebecca Cohen

Elizabethan actor Sebastian Hewel takes his bow at the proscenium only to embark on the role of a lifetime. When his twin sister, Bronwyn, reneges on the arrangement to marry Earl Anthony Crofton, Sebastian reluctantly takes her place. At nineteen, Sebastian knows his days as a leading lady are numbered, but with this last performance, he hopes to restore his family’s name and pay off his late father’s debts. Never mind the danger of losing his head should he be discovered. 

He didn’t expect Anthony to be so charming and alluring—not to mention shrewd. While he applauds Sebastian’s plan, Anthony offers a mutually beneficial arrangement instead. Sebastian will need every drop of talent he has to survive with both his head and his heart intact, because this is the best part he’s ever had

ebook and paperback – 216 pages

Review by Erastes

This is a plot done before, and to be honest, done better–in Madcap Masquerade by Penelope Roth–but that’s not to say it’s not worth a read.

It’s set in an era that isn’t covered enough in gay historicals–Elizabethan England and although, as the title explains, one of the protagonists is an actor it’s not set solely in a theatre. Shakespeare does get a mention here and there, though–is there anyone living in London at this time who didn’t know him!?

Overall, it’s nicely readable, and the plot canters on engagingly, but there is a major error that runs throughout which made me grind my teeth and will do for others I suspect. Let me just get that out of the way first. An Earl is usually “an earl of somewhere” e.g. the Earl of Pembroke OR simply as a prefix e.g. Earl Waldgrave. They are NOT addressed as “Earl Crofton” but as “Lord Crofton” as is the case here.

That aside, the book makes a good attempt to get a flavour of the time without an overabundance of detail. The food is mostly convincing–there are good descriptions of feasts where the meat goes on forever and there’s nary a fork in attendance–and the clothes are nicely illustrated: the gaudy doublet and hose of the men and the uncomfortable and restrictive clothes of the women. There was one scene where Sebastian put on his own corset which I found a little unlikely, but in the main it’s well done. The author even manages to tip a nod to the make-up of the day–white lead paint for the face–by having Lord Crofton (Anthony) forbid Sebastian to wear it when not at court.

The way the deception was managed–having Sebastian “visit” in his male persona while Lady Crofton was in bed with a mysterious illness was a bit unlikely. Despite having a couple of staff in on the truth it was rather unbelievable that a country house with dozens of staff would not sniff out what was really happening. There’s one section where Sebastian (as a male) goes over to visit neighbours and has a serious fall, and no mention of contacting his sister is made, let alone how that sister’s illness is continued when Sebastian isn’t on the premises. I mean, there’s no flushing toilets, so someone would notice at the very least, the lack of chamber pots.

There’s a fair smattering of OKHomo throughout, however. Everyone who is in on the secret from the beginning is all right with it, and the people who discover it as the book progresses are also perfectly fine, and are more concerned for the couple’s safety than the horror of what they are doing, as was the tone of the day. In fact everyone in the book–with the exception of Sebastian’s sister–is thoroughly Nice and all the conflict, which could easily come from external sources in this time and place, is managed by jealousy.

And that’s its major failing, really because I was never really convinced of the couple’s devotion to each other. That’s possibly because of the fact that the point of view is only from Sebastian’s side, so we never see Anthony’s feelings–although that’s part of the plot, too. But I didn’t understand WHY Sebastian fell in love with Anthony; I could see why Anthony fell for Sebastian as he’s quite doormatty until he finally has enough, but Anthony–other than being sexy and seductive–isn’t particularly nice until he realises that he might lose Sebastian for good.

So, all in all, a decent enough read and if you like the era you’ll probably appreciate it, but not a keeper for me. The sequel will be out later this year.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Dreamspinner

Author Interview – Rebecca Cohen

comfy chairMy guest today in the Comfy Chair is Rebecca Cohen, author of historical and fantasy stories with a male male romance theme. Her first published story, Captain Merric, appeared in Crossbones, an anthology of pirate tales from Dreamspinner, and as you can imagine I was all over that. 🙂 Since then she has published more short stories, one of which appeared in the UK Meet anthology Lashings of Sauce, her first novel, a fantasy entitled Servitude, and her second novel, The Actor and the Earl, set in Elizabethan England. More recently she has also published a unique and important co-written piece – her son. Congratulations to Rebecca and Mr Rebecca!

Many thanks for agreeing to inhabit my Comfy Chair and answer my questions.

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Elin: As mentioned above, you have written both historical and fantasy fiction. What is the particular draw of those genres? Is there any genre that you wouldn’t attempt?

Rebecca: I’m a geek, of both science and history so the fantasy and historical genres push my buttons like no tomorrow! I studied biochemical engineering as a post-grad and I love to try and write about science, particularly biology, in a different way. In Servitude, Lornyc is trying to discover his powers, and he is scientist, and I tried to explain his magic though his scientific view.

In term of history, I have always loved the Tudor and Stuart era. Although I love a good regency story as the next reader, I wanted to see different periods of history for my romance, so it was only natural I turned to the period I love.

As for a genre I wouldn’t attempt… tricky, as I’m not one to say never as who knows how inspiration will take, but I’m not really a fan of westerns/cowboys.

Elin: The 16th century was a hotbed of innovation that laid the foundations for earth shaking events – colonisation of the Americas, civil war in England, changes in religion and politics. What one thing excites you most about it? Or two. Well as many as you like really. I don’t think I could choose just one.

Rebecca: The politics of the Tudor period, and the machinations of the Tudor family themselves are absolutely fascinating. Politics and religion were so intimately tied together that it almost impossible to separate them. Basically the Tudors were real bastards, and life at court must have been one hell of ride. In addition, the spectacle must have been something to see. The rich folk of the time dressed sumptuously and like something out of a fairy tale. Elizabeth I was known to move her court from residence to residence, and I imagine that would have been an amazing sight to watch.

Elin: I very much enjoy historical research for its own sake but authors have to be wary of putting in too much detail. What’s the best bit of information that you discovered that didn’t make it into The Actor and the Earl? Likewise for Captain Merric?

Rebecca:I did a lot research around the day to day life and pastimes of the Elizabethans. I did use some of them in The Actor and the Earl, but there is only so much you can include without sounding like history textbook. And I’ve kept back a couple of couple prime examples (duelling and dancing!) for the sequel Duty to the Crown (Feb/Mar release). Also, life at court was a fascinating tale… I haven’t gone into the interaction of Queen Elizabeth and her favourite courtiers, but she was known to flirt outrageously with men, but also she had a terrible temper – she would throw thing and spit at his courtiers if they displeased her!

For Captain Merric, I learnt far more about the British Navy and pirate ships than I could use. Life at sea was harsh, and many men died at the hand of the hands of the barber surgeon or accident for gunpowder on board. The medical ‘care’ was extremely basic. The thought of quarterizing a wound in hot tar still turns my stomach.

Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?

Rebecca: I get a general idea of what a character looks like, especially my main characters, but they’re not usually based on anyone in particular. An exception here is Anthony Crofton from The Actor and the Earl, in my head at least, looks like Robert Dudley (1st earl Leicester). Although I was in Starbucks in London and a young man walked in and he was what I imagined Lornyc (from Servitude) would look like it… it took all my will power not to take a photo with my phone.

Elin: Are you a plotter or a pantser? By which I mean to you outline your work first and try to follow the story arc you have planned or do you start writing and see where the characters take you?

Rebecca: Plotter all the way – in fact, I don’t feel comfort writing a story without having written the skeleton outline first! I’m the kind of writer who believes that they are in control of their characters and not the other way around, so they are kept in line by knowing the plot they will inhabit. That’s not to say I know every detail and story kink, because where would the fun be in that?

Elin: I was gutted not to be able to attempt Nanowrimo this year. Have you ever tried it? If so, how did you get on? If not, why not?

Rebecca: I’ve never attempted Nanowrimo, and I must admit it doesn’t hold much appeal for me. While I can see how it would works for others, I feel I’d just end up with 50000 words of drivel that would take much longer to fix than the month it took to write. How I write, I tend to end up with a fairly complete, and clean(ish) first draft, I doubt I could manage that doing the Nanowrimo approach.

Elin: We all have our favourites. If you walked into your library and found water pouring down the wall [it happened to me last month @_@] which book would you grab and move to safety and which would you happily consign to papier-mache?

Rebecca: Making History by Stephen Fry is one my absolute favourites so would be grabbed straightway. And I’d be using the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to mop up the water and protect my Terry Pratchett hardback collection.

Elin: What are you working on at the moment? assuming you have a moment to think between feeds and nappy changes 🙂

Rebecca: I’ve just completed the first round edits for Duty to the Crown (the sequel to the Actor and the Earl) which is due for release in Feb/Mar. I pretty much wrote those two novels back to back last year.
I also have a number of WIPs at the moment. The sequel to Servitude, working title Idolatry, is about a third done, and I’ve just finished the first draft a magical realism-esque novella. And I have also just started a sci-fi novel based at the British government ministry that deals with extra-terrestrial visitors – think a very British version of Men In Black with less guns more tea and biscuits!
And I have an urge to write a romance based at the court of Charles II – a restoration comedy… but that one will have to wait.

Elin: Could we please have an example of something?

Rebecca: Here’s a pre-publication extract from Duty to the Crown:

The evening air was stale, the warmth of summer a claustrophobic blanket across the city, stifling the back streets that sprawled behind the Globe Theatre. Sebastian weaved through the short-tempered mass of people annoyed by the heat and the pungent smell. He was hot, too, hidden as he was under his heavy traveling cloak, but being dressed as a man was nowhere near as uncomfortable as being Bronwyn. Sebastian had slipped away from Anthony at the end of the play, pressing a note into his hand and smirking before disappearing into the throng of theatergoers.
A couple of tankards of wine had steeled his courage and helped to while away enough time for the evening to set in properly. Long shadows appeared in the wider alleys and in the others, where the sun hardly penetrated even at midday, it was now almost dark. These were the alleys Sebastian was interested in, their darkness a perfect cover for his plan. It was the kind of place Sebastian had frequented only on very rare occasions when he’d lived in London, having been warned off by the tales the other actors had told of cutthroats and pickpockets lurking around every corner. He checked that his dagger was close at hand before heading into the warren of little alleys where London’s least salubrious inhabitants would perpetrate the most disreputable deeds.
Sebastian didn’t stop to worry about what went on behind the closed doors of the buildings on this street; he had no wish to be seen as a nosey passerby and ultimately a body that would need to be disposed of. He rounded the corner briskly, relieved to enter a better-lit area where the local water pump was situated, grateful that he’d found the place he’d been searching for without getting lost.
There were three women gathered outside a bright red door, standing provocatively to show as much of their impressive bosoms as possible. A young man, probably a few years Sebastian’s junior, with wild brown hair sat on the pump’s pedestal, his long legs out in front of him and leaning back as if on display. One of the women, her age obscured by heavy makeup, was talking to a man dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes, whose face was hidden by the brim of a wide hat. Sebastian’s appearance made the other two women, also wearing heavy makeup and low necklines, preen to get his attention, one pouting almost comically while the second leaned forward to flash her cleavage and play with her hair. The young man jumped to his feet as he saw Sebastian approach, but his interest in Sebastian was sidetracked when the gentleman talking to the first woman called him over, and the three of them entered the house with the red door together.
Sebastian hung back as two more men arrived from different alleys and the two remaining women beckoned them over, and after exchanging a few words, led them inside the house, leaving Sebastian on his own. He prayed he wouldn’t have to wait long; his fingers curled around the hilt of his dagger unprompted. Taking off the traveling cloak, he laid it on the pedestal of the water pump, then, checking all the possible approaches, leaned against the pump in a way he hoped would come across as alluring. Sebastian was dressed in a set of clothing on which the tailor had done an amazing job of complementing his build, and he knew that he should make an attractive figure.
The bells of a nearby church rang out, telling the city it was eight o’clock. Footsteps approached, and Sebastian’s heart began to beat rapidly in his chest. The shadow preceded the man, and resplendent in his favorite dark red doublet, Earl Anthony Crofton arrived. He grinned as he saw Sebastian, his eyes raking slowly down Sebastian’s lean frame. Sebastian pushed off the water pump and sauntered forward, with a deliberate sway to hips.
“Are you lost, sir? Perhaps I can help.”
“Oh, I am sure your services would be very welcome, but it is not directions I am after,” replied Anthony, standing only inches away.
Sebastian leaned in close to whisper in Anthony’s ear. “There are many things I can offer, sir. Do you have anything particular in mind?”
“That would depend.”
“On what?”
“On whether I can buy you for an hour or a whole night, and if you have somewhere we can go.”
Sebastian bit the inside of his cheek to keep his moan caused by Anthony’s words and the heat in his eyes under his breath. “I have a room at a nearby tavern.”
“Then you can consider yourself bought for the night.”

~~~

Many thanks, Rebecca for answering, my questions and good luck with your writing.

Buy links for Actor and the Earl:
DSP: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3429&cPath=55_462

Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Actor-Earl-ebook/dp/B00AFW0KOO/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

Rebecca’s author pages at DSP: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_462

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.cohen.710

Blog: http://rebecca-cohen.livejournal.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/R_Cohen_writes

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