Lost in Another Time
For me, nothing compares to a good historical romance to firmly ensure that I know what country I am reading about. I enjoy contemporary romances as well, but sometimes the ‘flavour’ of the countries they are set in has been removed so thoroughly it is actually hard to tell whether the setting is England, America or even somewhere else. I recall reading one story a while ago (not a gay romance) where I actually thought the country was the US until a random mention in the middle of the Eiffel Tower.
Now I am not saying all contemporaries are hard to place the location of. Some writers bring the country they are writing about to life very well indeed. Some even manage to get those books published while still maintaining the flavour of the country after it has been through numerous rounds of editing. Kudos to those who succeed.
However, when it comes to the historical genre it is a whole different matter. Yes, editors can and do remove the British spellings and terminology, but when you’re reading a story set during, for example, the Regency period in London, you know you are there because it spills from every page. As soon as a king or queen of England is mentioned, you know exactly when and where you are. Or at least I do, since I am a bit of a history fanatic.
My favourite time periods are Stuart and Tudor England and I was delighted this year to discover new books set in the latter era.
The Actor and the Earl by Rebecca Cohen is the first book in a trilogy, which is followed up by Duty to the Crown. The third and final book isn’t out until next year and I can’t wait. (I am hoping for even more than three, but that’s because I am unbelievably greedy.)
Set in Tudor England and drawing heavily from Shakespeare (who is surprisingly not one of my favourite writers – I know, I’m a traitor to my English heritage!) the story of Sebastian and Anthony kept me glued to my ereader long into the night.
To tell you a little about the story, hopefully without giving too much away, Sebastian is an actor on the stage where he plays female roles. In this time period men playing female roles were, of course, common place since women were not generally allowed on the stage, Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love notwithstanding.
However, Sebastian is nineteen years old and know he won’t be able to play these roles for much longer. His days in female wigs and feminine clothing are drawing to an end. Or are they?
Sebastian unexpectedly finds himself playing the part of a female off the stage when he takes the place of his twin sister to save the reputation of his family and pay off the debts of his deceased father.
Anthony, the Earl of the title of the first book, is the man Sebastian tries to fool into thinking he is his twin sister. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Anthony is smart enough to figure out the deception before it gets very far. He suggests Sebastian continues his role as Anthony’s ‘wife’ and thus their relationship begins.
Sebastian and Anthony are two men who fall in love in a time when relationships between two men could mean the end of their lives. Sebastian in particular is in a very vulnerable position, because unlike Anthony he doesn’t have the connections that could save his life if they were to be caught. The one rule for the rich and another for the poor is an unfortunate fact of life.
Many historical romances of the male/male variety have a tendency to gloss over the whole illegality of homosexual relations issue. Rebecca Cohen does not. Although she does not dwell on the danger the men are in for page after page, the fear of what would happen if Sebastian’s charade were to be discovered is ever present in the background.
And that is one of the major reasons why I love this series. There is no way to forget what era and country and I am reading about. Nothing in the story makes me wonder if it is in fact set in an alternate type of historical world where homosexual relationships are in fact taking place all around and everyone turns a blind eye.
With a story about two Elizabethan men who are involved in a very dangerous and potentially scandalous relationship you would think the books would be heavy on the drama and not much else, but this is not the case at all. In fact, there is a delightful amount of comedy in the stories as you read about the tangled lives of Anthony, Sebastian and their contemporaries.
As a man playing the role of a female, Sebastian doesn’t expect to get the attention of admirers, but unfortunately for him, there are those who are eager to get to know him better, both as a man and as a woman. Yes, there is danger in others discovering his charade, but the way the dilemma is handled is actually very amusing at times as well.
Shakespearian romps hold little interest for me, but Rebecca Cohen’s Elizabethan romp had me hooked from the start.
I absolutely adore the first two books in the series and while I will be pouncing on the final book in the trilogy as soon as it is out, I will be very sad to leave the world created by Ms Cohen and hope *HINT HINT* there are many more books to come.
I thoroughly recommend immersing yourself in Elizabethan England some time in the very near future, if you aren’t already fan-girling over this series like me that is.
I live in England, in a quaint little village that time doesn’t seem to have touched. No, wait a minute- that’s the retirement biography. Right now I am in England in a medium sized town that no one has ever heard of, so I won’t bore you with the details. Keeping me company are numerous sexy men. I just wish that they weren’t all inside my head.