Book Review: The Crofton Chronicles by Rebecca Cohen
A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.
Gorgeous Historical Series
Now, I'll admit that I've had this for review for a long time. Between work and life, I've always had to put it aside to do something else and it didn't bother me so much because I hadn't read the author before, I was intrigued by the plot but I'm not a historical reader, by nature, so I really wasn't sure what to expect. I'm also a binge reader, so I wanted to be able to read all of the books in a row, without having to pause in between to read something else.
I should have read it sooner.
Book 1: The Actor and the Earl
This was a fantastic, charming story that really lifted me reading-mood, after a few bad reads. I'd lost interest in reading for the 2-3 weeks prior to picking this up and this has completely reignited my need for historical romances.
I found Anthony highly intriguing, because he was mysterious, secretive and had enough mood swings throughout that I could never quite pin down how he was feeling or what was going through his head, which made the ending really exciting. I never knew what was on the horizon with Anthony, but I did with Sebastian because, strangely enough, I thought exactly the same things at the same times that he did. When he doubted, so did I; when he had faith and trust, so did I. It was reassuring to have a main character, especially the primary POV, be someone that I could so easily relate to. His love of the arts and acting really helped, while also giving the perfect background to his charade.
I loved the progression of the story, how naturally Anthony and Sebastian fit together, even before they knew each other. But I also loved that it wasn't all smooth sailing, either. That Anthony had a son, a dead wife, a reputation and a whole lot of baggage as well as a real, valid need for a new wife, that the Queen had encouraged. On the flip side, Sebastian has nothing – no baggage, no scandals, no rumours haunting him, except those about his dead father.
The only issue was the small editing problem of missing or extra words and a single instance of Anthony being called by a surname other than Crofton, which was a little confusing.
Overall, it was an incredibly fun, exciting read with some real moments that had me in tears and some moments that made me worry for Sebastian's head. I was constantly intrigued to see how each twist would play out and am still intrigued as to how it will continue. I loved the jealousy, the realism of the emotions, the chemistry between the characters and how much it hurt me when Sebastian hurt. The inclusion of historically accurate material – the nice slip of The Globe and Shakespeare helping Sebastian learn his lines – all served to make the story more real and relatable. The brief slips Sebastian made from familiarity were brilliantly handled, as were his reactions to Anthony's first apology reunion, which was gut-wrenching. There was so much to love about it that it just had me on a constant emotional rollercoaster.
I marked so many that I could only whittle it down to four.
““Gift? Who would give us money to marry Bronwyn? I was convinced we'd be stuck with her, since there's no money left from my father's estate for her dowry.”
““I should not press you.”
““There is only so much a man can overlook before he either turns blind or goes mad.””
Book 2: Duty to the Crown
Wow. This was another great story with all the right drama in all the right places.
I feel that Sebastian and Anthony's relationship is a little more turbulent than before, with the constant deception and the orders to seduce other people, leading to rife jealousy. I love how it was portrayed and explored throughout the story. Anthony is a very “you catch more bees with honey” type of man, while Sebastian has to prove that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and that, sometimes, playing hard to get could be more effective, while friendship was also a logical route over romance. The awkwardness that Sebastian brought to his scenes with Nicholas and Marie during the 'courting' process were both hilarious and cringe-worthy. Yet, I loved that Anthony got a taste of his own medicine.
As before, the chemistry between Sebastian and Anthony was off the charts brilliant! I loved the banter, the playfulness, even the perfectly ordinary moments where you saw Sebastian badgering Anthony about taking his medicine or where they enjoyed some quality time together. It all strengthened my faith in this couple and the belief that they should be together.
Overall, there were so many wonderful moments that it's impossible not to fall in love with this book and series. The characters are realistic, relatable and exciting; the things they go through are intriguing and make me laugh, cry, worry and freak out. I couldn't have asked for a better series to remind me how much I love the historical sub-genre and that a forbidden romance can be just as beautiful as one allowed in a modern age.
““Listen to me, Anthony Crofton. While I accept that you cannot refuse the Queen, do not think you can come near me until you have worked out a way to complete this request without me having to contain the desire to punch you.””
“Anthony was waiting as Sebastian left his room. “I thought we could arrive at the Great Hall together – and a good job, too, as you appear to be besmirching my good name.”
Book 3: Forever Hold His Peace
Oh. My. God. I swear, if this had been the last ever, I wouldn't have been disappointed. Not since I'm now going to go and buy the paperbacks of all these books so I can re-read them over and over and over again. But the fact that there is one more, even if it's contemporary, is just so, so exciting!
I can't say much more without giving too much away, but it was brilliant and the perfect end to the historical part of the story. I loved that the Epilogue showed up William as a grown man, trying to guide his grandson to the truth of just what Anthony and Sebastian had shared, but it killed me to hear about their end days and all that had happened. Killed me!
“Sometimes even the most wicked of tongues speak the truth.”
““Samuel Jenster is a villain and a thief, but there are few men 'd rather have on my side during a fight.”
Okay, so I have to say that while I loved this one, it really would have been better as a stand-alone accompanying novel, NOT as part of this bundle. Because, personally, I cried and my heart ached and I was completely in love with the ending to book 3 within the historical era. Reading this one stole that happy, crying, wistful mood and left me feeling a little flatter than before. The ending of book 3 was PERFECT. And it really should have been left to be the ending, with the Stately Passions book(s) as a completely separate companion series. Putting them together just ruined the magic.
This is also the first book that is dual POV, which is a chance, but not necessarily a bad one. However, I'm not entirely sure that it was needed in places, because we often say things in say Ashley's POV that were later explored and/or explained in Ben's, meaning that we didn't have to see it first hand if we were going to be discussing it at length later or vice versa.
It also felt really long to read. I mean I read it in an afternoon, so it's not that long realistically, but it felt like it dragged on, whereas I felt like I flew through the previous books. This could be because there's not a lot happening in this book beyond the romance. There's the Ben and Ashley romance storyline, plus the background story that kicks it all off of Ben's mother putting them in financial difficulties. However, other than that, nothing really happens in between and there were times when the story dragged or flagged because of that. There was none of the drama or excitement that the historical books had, for sure.
I was a bit disappointed about the ending. Sebastian would have turned in his grave if he knew what they'd done with that folio, which goes against everything he and Anthony stood for. While I get the logical side of it, the artist in me was screaming the whole time and wishing that some other plot arc had crept in to surprise us with another option. The implication that I understood was that this was the incomplete play that Shakespeare had written for Sebastian about his life with Anthony and that it makes it even more of a travesty to have to sell it, placing it in the care of someone outside of Crofton Hall. It just felt like it wasn't properly appreciated by Ben or Anthony, who I thought would have been more eager to find a way around keeping it while getting the money to save the Hall.
Overall, while it was a fun contemporary romance and I'll be interested to read the rest of the series, it didn't grab my hear the way the historical novels did. I wouldn't be rushing to buy this in paperback, the way I feel with the historical stories. This one was less dramatic, less exciting and much slower to get through, completely stealing the perfect ending of book 3 and leaving me with a feeling of disappointment that wouldn't have been there had this story not been included in the bundle.
““Have you ever thought what I actually want? Maybe I do want a night where someone would cook me dinner, read to me in the bath, and cuddle up without expecting anything in return. But that's not the real world, Catlin. People look at me and see the earl, not the man.””
““When you kiss me, do you feel like you're seeing stars?”
Often when you have a series, the first book is fantastic and then the others slowly dwindle in interest or the first takes too long to introduce the characters, spending too much time letting us know them, and doesn't have an interesting story while it takes either book two or three to pick up the reader's interest. This series doesn't do that. Right from page one of book one I knew I'd love it. And I was right to believe that, because it proved to be true.
I particularly loved the way that Sebastian was treated by those socially engaged with Anthony, how some looked down on him because they thought him too plain for a wife of a philanderer, while some thought it a perfect match because Sebastian's family are known for their loyalty to the Queen. Yet, at the same time, there was this constant feeling of Sebastian being judged, the worry that Anthony might find more interest elsewhere and the concern of being caught and the consequences, should that happen. There was never a moment where drama wasn't present, but I loved that there were such varying degrees of drama and for all kinds of reasons. Even the worry that Anthony's son might not take to him was really well written and handled.