At age 20, Sebastian Howell’s days of playing the young damsel on stage are coming to an end. He’s still waiting to get a coveted male part, but time isn’t on his side. So when his twin sister abandons her fiance, the family pressures Sebastian to step in and pretend to be Bronwyn.
Even after he discovers the truth about the switch, Anthony Redbourn, Lord Crofton, doesn’t seem to mind his new bride is actually a man. Anthony is known to be something of a rake, but the Queen has ordered him to marry and one does not argue with Elizabeth. He doesn’t expect to be so captivated by Sebastian, but there’s no doubt Anthony’s heart belongs to the plucky young actor. Maintaining the ruse is no easy task though and Sebastian and Anthony are under constant threat of discovery. With prying eyes watching their every move, the threats of court intrigue, and the pressures of family and friends, Sebastian and Anthony struggle to keep their relationship intact. But with luck and cunning, they might just create a final act to rival the ages.
The Crofton Chronicles is a collection of four separate novels, all of which were previously published independently of one another. Now, The Actor and the Earl, Duty to the Crown, and Forever Hold His Peace have all been bound into one collection. The fourth book in the bundle is Saving Crofton Hall and it’s set in contemporary times, but references Sebastian and Anthony. For the purposes of this review, I’m focusing only on the trio of books that directly deal with Sebastian and Anthony. I decided they each achieved about the same rating, so it seems easier to offer up one review, despite the size and scope of The Crofton Chronicles.
In The Actor and The Earl, Anthony and Sebastian marry and begin the difficult business of juggling a marriage that appears to the world as one thing while being something quite different in reality. Everything that works about this series starts with this entry, as well as everything that doesn’t. Duty to the Crown and Forever Hold His Peace deal more with the struggles of court life and the realities of how to handle a ruse that can’t possibly last forever. As a result, they feel more like slice of life novels rather than big dramatic action pieces and that certainly isn’t a bad thing. So I think it’s safe to say if you enjoy the first third of The Crofton Chronicles, you’re likely to enjoy the entire series.
The basic plot for The Crofton Chronicles is bonkers and it requires an incredible suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Anthony discovers right away that Sebastian is a man (long before the wedding night) and doesn’t bat an eye at going through with the ruse. And they tell way too many people the truth about the situation, people who then just keep mum and go along with the pretense. It’s utterly ridiculous and it took a great deal of patience on my part to accept this aspect of the series. That said, once I made my peace with the plot, I was able to enjoy Sebastian and Anthony in their own right. Their relationship isn’t particularly even and it requires more sacrifice from Sebastian, but they work well together despite this. They have the annoying tendency to solve every fight with sex, but there is real growth in the relationship as well. We see the end of Anthony’s rakish ways and his support of Sebastian’s growth as an actor. The antagonists always come off as caricatures that tended telegraph their every action, so they never feel like much a threat to our heroes.
The Crofton Chronicles have the privilege of being unique, at least with regards to the plot. It’s an eye rolling storyline, but it isn’t ordinary and on some level I appreciated that. But it’s really Sebastian and Anthony that save these books from becoming comical. Their love for one another and their ability to maneuver and survive among the dangers of the Elizabethan and then Stuart court kept me reading all the way to the end. The author is continuing the series with the recently released, Anthony, Earl of Crofton (which I will be reviewing this month as well). So now is the perfect time to grab The Crofton Chronicles if you enjoy your historical romance with a bit of theatrical flair.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.