I’ve been away.
But now I’m back!
In the between-while I have been reading romances. A glut of romances. Nothing else but romances! So many romances that I’ve started reading We, The Drowned to cleanse my reading palate.
Let me begin with Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover by Sarah McLean which was a really nice time-filler of a book. It’s really. . . nice? With a big reveal. However—you knew there was going to be a however didn’t you—I can’t say that it’s a book which makes me squee or makes me want to particularly think about it.
With that out of the way let me talk about my new favourite author, Stella Riley. I discovered her through Dear Author (which has had its own very big kerfuffle just a couple of days ago btw if you’re interested). So anyway, I read Riley’s The Parfit Knight and The Mésalliance and while I enjoyed the latter I loved the former!
Here’s a description of The Parfit Knight from the author’s site:
The Marquis of Amberley is rich, assured and thirty-four years old, with the reputation of being a law unto himself and a degree of charm which even his friends consider disastrous.
When his coach is waylaid by highwaymen and his coachman shot, he is forced to take shelter at the first house he finds and is subsequently trapped there for a week by a severe snow storm.
Oakleigh Manor is the home of beautiful, twenty-two year-old Rosalind Vernon who lives alone but for her devoted servants and an ill-natured parrot, cut off from the outside world by the tragic result of a childhood accident. But Rosalind is brave and bright and totally devoid of self-pity – and it is these qualities which, as the days pass and the snow continues to fall, cause Amberley to fall in love.
On his return to London, the Marquis persuades Rosalind’s brother, Philip, to bring her to town for a taste of society – a move which, despite her handicap, Rosalind handles brilliantly.
But the course of Amberley’s courtship is far from smooth for, due to a misapprehension, Philip Vernon actively dislikes him and Rosalind appears to be falling under the spell of the suavely elegant Duke of Rockliffe. Worse still, Amberley is haunted by a dark and terrible secret that, if revealed, may cause him to lose Rosalind forever.
Miss Riley’s forte seems to be characterization. Oh, she’s good with the rest of the bits too—her language for one was quite lovely but also quite unobtrusive if you know what I mean. . . used in service of the story rather than as a standout feature all on its own, an aspect that I found myself appreciating—but I think the reason she’s my new favourite author is because she’s really really good at filling out her story with just the right characters.
Take Amberley and Rockliffe, the hero of The Mésalliance for instance. Amberley and Rockliffe are both very hero-like (handsome, commanding, and the other usual staples of a romance book hero) but are also quite different from each other. It struck me that one of the reasons why I’m not particularly moved to look up other books by an author I enjoyed, at least in genre romance, is because I could take the hero out of one book and put him in another by the same author without it making much difference to the story. On the other hand, a substitution would not work for Amberley’s and Rockliffe’s stories precisely because of the people they are—their romance unfolds the way it does because of who they are. I’ll concede that I’m coming to some rather hefty conclusions from a reading of just two books but I have a feeling that this is going to be true for all of Miss Riley’s works (hopefully!).
Amberley’s romancing of Rosalind is a delight to read. The tenderness that develops between our hero and heroine, to which they in time-honored tradition of the romance novel are quite oblivious (at least initially), is rather sweet. And yet perfect as they are I don’t think I would have sighed over The Parfit Knight the way I did if it was not also for the cast of its secondary characters without whom the story would not have been what it is.
And so there’s the villainous reprobate who is tiresome and selfish and remains faithful to villainy all the way till the end, causing havoc for our hero and heroine in the process (and yes, I couldn’t wait for him to receive his comeuppance!). Then there’s the supporting actress/faithful friend character who starts out as being an unknown quantity but proves her mettle rather quickly. The mutton-headed brother of the heroine, who’s also our supporting actress/friend’s love interest, is the obstructionist in the path of true love. Rockliffe stars as Amberley’s know-it-all best friend who has frighteningly omniscient powers and a prodigious love for snuff boxes. Our hero’s mother is poised, perfect and French. A rascally parrot with a penchant for curses and vilifications rounds up our motley crew.
Each character fits the bill perfectly. I can almost imagine Miss Riley having back stories for each of them which the reader is not privy to but which affects how he or she is portrayed in the story one is reading. The same holds true for The Mésalliance which has its own list of secondary characters and romances.
Unlike other authors, with Miss Riley, I find myself eager to read her other stories and see for myself what she does there. I’ll report how that excursion into her back list goes. Till then, I’d recommend you try out The Parfit Knight yourself!