Tallie's Knight

 
Gallant Waif by Anne Gracie
(Harl. Historical #557, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29157-4
*****
It’s been quite a while since I’d given a book five hearts and now I find myself awarding this coveted rating twice in one week. What’s even more startling is that both books are by the same author. My friends, welcome Anne Gracie to the ranks of excellent romance writers and keep your fingers crossed that she keeps writing books and that Harlequin keeps publishing them for the American romance reading public.

For those of you who did not read my review of Gracie’s Regency romance, Tallie’s Knight, a bit of an explanation is in order. Anne Gracie is an Australian author who submitted Gallant Waif to RWA’s Rita Award contest as “best first book.” At that point, the book had only been published in Australia and Britain, but Harlequin was planning to bring it to the United States. While Gracie did not win the award, she was a finalist. After reading Gallant Waif, I certainly understand why the judges thought so highly of this first book.

Lady Cahill has a problem. Her beloved grandson, Major Jack Carstairs, has withdrawn from society and hidden himself away in Leicestershire, at the ramshackle manor he inherited from his father. He has his reasons. Badly injured in the war, he returned home to discover that his father had mostly disinherited him. Worse, his betrothed ends their engagement. Julia has no wish to marry a poor man with a scarred face and a bad leg.

Her ladyship, not one to back down from a challenge, decides to travel to Sevenoaks and confront Jack. On the way, she stops in a small village to discover the circumstances of the daughter of her own goddaughter. She has learned that Kate Farleigh has been left penniless and is planning to take a position as a maid. Kate is surprised at Lady Cahill’s appearance and resists her offer of a home. She does not want charity and she certainly does not want to appear in London society.

Kate had accompanied her father and brothers to the Peninsula and had lost all three to the war. She had also lost her reputation. But Lady Cahill is not to be denied. She kidnaps Kate and carries her off to Jack’s house.

The house is as great a mess as Jack is and Kate sets out to set things right. She is soon sparring with the master of the house. Lady Cahill is delighted; her grandson is at least no longer mired in despair. Kate tells her ladyship her sad tale to show why she cannot go to London. Lady Cahill sees a solution; Kate will stay at Sevenoaks to bring order to the house and its master.

And Kate does just that. Her unusual life with the army makes her just the person to deal with both Jack’s physical and his emotional wounds. The two clash and spar and, of course, fall in love. But Kate believes that she can never marry, while Jack’s previous rejection has left him leery of love.

Kate is a great heroine. She is brave and competent and charming and lovely. She has borne more pain and sorrow than anyone should have to bear, but she is not defeated. Jack is wounded hero but not an unsympathetic one. If he sometimes blusters, he is more often kind in his own particular way. He is used to being obeyed. Watching him deal with a young woman who will not be cowed by his best “major” persona provides more than a few humorous moments.

Gracie has a marvelous knowledge of Regency England’s history and social mores. She does not make a single wrong step, but I would expect nothing less than this from the woman who is the resident history expert on the Heyer list. Nor does the author make a single wrong step in her plotting, her characterizations, or her writing. She has an easy and elegant style.

In sum, Gallant Waif has nothing of a “first book” about it. This is as polished a piece of romance writing as anyone could want. I certainly hope that Gracie’s books get the readership they deserve. I want more stories by this extremely talented author. In lieu of another Gracie book, I think I’ll stop now and go reread Gallant Waif.

--Jean Mason


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