The Actor and the Earl

Author: Rebecca Cohen
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Buy Links:  The Actor and the Earl; 
Genre: Historical
Length: Novel (216 pages)
Rating: 2 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by LenaLena

Review Summary: Too bland to be more than mildly enjoyable.


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.

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.

I just finished reading this book and figured I’d better write the review now before I’ll have forgotten it. Like, tomorrow.

This book reads like a Harlequin. An old one from the 70s. One where the tiniest bits of conflict are supposed to get the reader riled up. Where the virginal heroine gets upset by bits of gossip, or by the hero being a bit short with her when he is upset about something else or by, oh horror, other women making a pass at her husband and husband not slapping these harlots down fast enough. It’s hard to believe that Sebastian, having spent years among actors/prostitutes even has such virginal sensibilities and is holding out for true love in a mercenary marriage like this one, but he does.

It is unclear to me why Sebastian falls in love with Anthony, besides the fact that he is handsome and he’s the first one he goes all the way with. I am not even sure when it happens. It is also unclear to me why Anthony apparently goes all insta-love about Sebastian. The former is worse, because the whole thing is written from Sebastian’s viewpoint and if he can’t translate his own feelings to the reader, what’s the point of being in a romance novel? Maybe first person POV would have helped in this case. As it is, there is so little elaboration on Sebastian’s feelings, it seems like the author is counting on the readers to insert their own emotions in the appropriate places. But as I mentioned before, the stuff I am supposed to get upset or excited about is so insignificant it hardly makes a blip on my radar.

The whole premise of the conflict in this book is that Anthony was a player before he got married, and other people don’t believe he can be reformed, especially being married to such a plain ‘girl’. Because Anthony doesn’t gush properly every five minutes (the flashes of possessiveness and jealousy don’t count, I guess), Sebastian shares these beliefs. Of course, everybody and their aunt keeps warning him not to lose his heart to the player, so I guess we can’t blame the poor boy. The only one who was any fun in this book was the real Bronwyn and that was only because she was so stupidly over the top with her ‘OMG! How dare you not shout your love for my brother from the rooftops!’.

All the episodes of barely-there conflict are resolved within a paragraph or three, as if the author is afraid that too much conflict will chase readers away. Instead, what it does is kill any tension. Only the last big scandalous misunderstanding lasts bit longer and, in proper Harlequin fashion, gets resolved with a grand public make up scene, after there has been most proper grovelling.

It’s really too bad, because I liked the idea of the story. And it functions quite well as a light, formulaic romance. The fact that most of the cross dressing charade went off without a hitch is not realistic of course. But that lack of realism didn’t bother me so much as all the missed opportunities for some meatier conflict.

I personally didn’t care for the sex in this book, which only lasted a couple of paragraphs per scene. Just like the conflicts. I found it uninspired, but your mileage may vary. If you manage to feel the love between the MCs here, it may actually be alright.

And was there a point to having a mute kid in this book? Did he have any other function than window dressing and padding the page count?

If you’re in the mood for something light, predictable and uncomplicated, this one may scratch the itch.


  • I really enjoyed reading this book including the sequel Duty to the Crown. It was a fun read. I am really hoping that there will be one more story.

  • I read this book some time ago, but it was a 3-3.5 for me. IMO, the author was working with some of the stereotypical tropes, but not oblivious to them. I’m not particularly enamored with Regency or Victorian historicals, but have read a reasonable number of them. The aspect of interest to me is what means the author contrives for the MCs to survive society’s scrutiny. It’s seldom resolved without some suspension of disbelief. (In one the MC’s sister moved in with her female partner and the couples pretended to have het marriages.) The resolution in this book worked as well as most, maybe a bit more so for its silliness. I love how all of these households seem to have oblivious, complicit, very loyal, or absent servants.

  • Thank you! I’m really not that hard to please when it comes to reading so I can count on one hand books I couldn’t finish. This is one of them. It was so extraordinarily blah that I don’t think I made it even half way through. I bought this because of the crossdressing aspect.What a disappointment. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

  • All the episodes of barely-there conflict are resolved within a paragraph or three, as if the author is afraid that too much conflict will chase readers away. Instead, what it does is kill any tension.

    That’s the final nail in the coffin as far as I’m concerned. Why do authors do this? I will definitely not be reading this. Thanks for the review, Lena. :)

  • There was a mute kid? *Thinks hard* no don’t remember, nor do I remember the plot, but I did want to slap *checks name* Sebastian once in a while

    • Anthony had a 3 year old son, whom we meet once. Sebastian totally wins him over, of course. He’s probably not actually mute, but I found it really weird that a 3 year old would not say anything or make any noise when introduced to a stranger.

  • I read this book a few days ago as well. I share some of your sentiment. One thing I couldn’t believe is how their situation could remain a “secret” when so many people knew about it. The nature of a secret is that the less people know it the more likely it is to remain so but here I felt there were to many people in on the charade.
    It did not make me want to pick up the sequel that’s for sure.

    • I decided not to harp on the ‘secrecy’ part, because I think it was intended to read more like a Shakespearean comedy, in which no one important ever recognizes the disguised character. I am willing to suspend my disbelief for that. But it was boring, and that was a problem.

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