Review: More than a Stranger by Erin Knightley

In England's nineteenth-century countryside Lady Evelyn Moore had her heart broken at just sixteen years-old by a man she was unfathomably in love with, but had never actually...met. When her brother Richard left an eleven year-old Evelyn for school in the city and wrote back of his wonderful new friend Hastings, spirited Evelyn took it upon herself to write to this abominable Mr. Benedict Hastings and make him aware of Richard's very devoted and truly best friend at home: herself. What resulted was years of playful and secretive banter exchanged between Hastings and Evelyn, which ended in a tumult of emotions and heartbreak upon Benedict's sudden departure to the Continent. When Benedict returns to England after a darkly mysterious absence and requires an escape from the busyness of London, Richard is quick to supply his friend with just the solution: the country estate soon to be left in solitude when his family heads to London for the Season. But when Benedict arrives at the house he expects to find empty he finds instead Lady Evelyn, the beautiful face who belongs to the letters he received so long ago. As he wrestles with his feelings for Evelyn and his loyalty to his best friend, Benedict must stay one step ahead of the dark secrets and darker dangers that may very well have followed him from his tumultuous past.

More than a Stranger is a sparkling debut from author Erin Knightley, setting the stage for her Sealed with a Kiss series and energetically creating the foundation for a bright new talent in the historical romance genre. I immediately became immersed in Knightley's Regency world, feeling instantly familiar with both her characters and narrative while also recognizing in the novel her unique ability to spin both a charming romance and a thrilling suspense. Elements of More than a Stranger almost felt along the lines of a traditional Gothic romance, with the hero harboring a mysterious past and the story boasting a palpable air of suspense. At other times the novel glided along in a charmingly graceful and romantic way reminiscent of Austen's works. What resulted was a combination of ageless themes that worked into a delightfully refreshing and original novel.

Each of Knightley's characters came to life instantly and with a talented vibrancy, from the hero and heroine to Evelyn's brother Richard, their sister Beatrice, and even the menacing Frenchman who takes root at the novel’s most suspenseful chapter. I actually found myself having to cover the bottom of the page with my hand as I read for fear that my eyes would slip ahead and discover the story’s secrets (really!), which I found impossible to predict. Knightley handles the mystery of the novel with commendable skill; she leaves her readers as well as her heroine in the dark for the majority of the story without allowing either to fall into frustration and leaving no threads open for predictability. With a sharp wit, cunning mystery, beguiling heroine, and dashing hero, Erin Knightley's More than a Stranger is everything this historical romance fan could want, and more.

There's one extra thing I want to talk about in closing, and it's something I typically wouldn't bring up at all just because, but since the author herself has discussed it (here) I feel compelled to bring the subject into my review as well. The fact is, there isn't a single love-making scene to be found in the pages of More than a Stranger. Sex appeal? Absolutely. Sexual tension? For sure. Actual sex? None whatsoever. And, hand-to-heart, it doesn't need it. Everyone reads romances for different reasons. If someone were to ask me why I read them, I would actually put More than a Stranger forward as an example: what Erin Knightley created between her hero and heroine is jump-off-the-page, underneath-your-skin chemistry. This can be done with love scenes, too, for certain, but it can also be done without. Especially when you have beautiful, historical, utterly romantic Regency England as your backdrop. The mannerisms of the era, the attention to detail, the language, it can all send jolts of delight into the heart of a true romantic, and that's where I feel the historical romance genre offers a uniquely difficult challenge: creating a hero and heroine that can generate sparks of their own volition, without the author's encouragement. What the author does with them after that is their own decision obviously, but if that initial spark, that oh-so-simple and blissfully exciting chemistry isn't there it feels to me, the reader, that the challenge hasn't been quite squarely met. But here - and in her very first book, no less! - Erin Knightley took the challenge head-on and more than succeeded!

Title: More than a Stranger (Sealed with a Kiss #1) Author: Erin Knightley Genre: Historical romance Publisher: Signet Eclipse Format: paperback, ebook Release date: June 5, 2012 Source: Personal collection Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Better World Books Connect with the author: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook