More Than a Stranger
Penguin / June 5, 2012 / $7.99
When his family abandoned him at Eton, Benedict Hastings found an unexpected ally in his best friend’s sister. Her letters kept him going—until the day he had to leave everything behind. Years later, Benedict has seen his share of betrayal, but when treachery hits close to home, he turns to his old friend for safe haven….
After five torturous years on the marriage circuit, Lady Evelyn Moore is finally free to live her life as she wishes. So when her brother shows up with a dashing stranger, she finds herself torn between her dreams...and newfound desires. Despite his determination to keep Evie at a distance, Benedict cannot deny the attraction that began with a secret correspondence. Yet as they begin to discover one another, the dangers of Benedict’s world find them, threatening their lives, their love, and everything they thought they could never have…
A recent report on Mashable.com noted that, “More than 66% of adults are connected to one or more social media platforms.” On the one hand, it certainly makes maintaining a missive extremely quick and easy. On the other, it’s streamlining the process of correspondence so much that the art of letter writing is being lost.
Erin Knightley’s debut historical romance, More Than A Stranger, poses a most intriguing question that would likely be lost in our modern era of social media: If two people fell in love without ever having met, would they know each other when they finally came face to face?
More Than A Stranger begins with an epistolary relationship that hooked me from the very first page because I, myself, am an avid letter writer. Lady Evelyn Moore is just 11 years old when her brother, Richard, heads off to school at Eton and writes home to share all the news about school … including his new best friend Benedict Hastings. Talk about setting her hair on fire—all her life, Evie was Richard’s best friend. So she fires off a letter to the interloper.
Dear Mr. Hastings,
I am sorry to tell you that my brother already has a best friend. I don’t care that you can shoot and ride well. Besides, I promise that you cannot ride better than me. Kindly leave Richard alone.
And they’re off! The letters fly back and forth over the course of Richard’s five years of school, at first adversarial but eventually blossoming into love before ending abruptly in heartbreak. Hastings just severs all ties one day. The end.
And then, the letters stopped coming.
After nearly five years of constant communication, a veritable river of correspondence flowing between them uninterrupted, suddenly the waters had dried up. There had not been a single word, not even one small note from Hastings in almost two months. It was positively rude—not to mention uncharacteristic.
Only, you know it’s really not. That wouldn’t be a romance, would it? Ms. Knightley weaves a delightful, charming tale of betrayal, scandal and treason. But it’s all tied together through the initial epistolary relationship. I love how she leads into each new chapter with one of the notes Evie and Hastings wrote. It’s a brilliant way to illustrate how their relationship evolved through the years. With Hastings, Evie can be her cheeky, teasing self; and with Evie, Hastings finally has someone (and only one) with which to correspond.
But like many a young man in 1809, Hastings is lured into the service of the Crown, through the War Office. An early 007, if you will, with an obligation that requires him to sever all ties with his old life. Even with his beloved Evie.
Fate intervenes on the very day Evie announces to her father that she wishes to withdraw, and tests Ms. Knightley’s theory. Richard arrives at the family estate, with Hastings in tow.
“Well, it’s good to see you, too, Little Bit. Are you headed out for a ride?"
“Yes, I was before I ran into our visitor. A friend of yours, I presume?” She motioned toward the stranger but froze when their eyes met. He was watching her with such intensity, she instinctively took a tiny step back. The look was gone in an instant. Evie blinked in confusion. How completely odd. Could she have possibly the fierceness of his gaze? Surely she had—she had only just met the man! He’d have no cause to care one way or another about her. Nonetheless, a tiny shiver raced down her spine.
It’s a very romantic tale. And it’s interesting as a reader, knowing who Hastings is and seeing how helplessly drawn he is to the girl he fell in love with. It’s equally frustrating knowing that Evie struggles with falling in love with a “stranger,” and knowing that she can’t hear me yelling at her through the pages.
I’ll leave you with one of the letters from Evie to Hastings …
I may not know you by your countenance, but I should like to think that I should know you by a single phrase, as such has been the nature of our correspondence. I feel as if I know you best among all.
… and a parting question: do you think two people who have only corresponded through letters would know each other when they finally came face to face, or do you think it would take a recognizable phrase?
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.