“No, no, Papa. I won’t. You cannot make me.”
Anne Gracie’s 1999 Gallant Waif opens with Julia Davenport’s rejection of hero Jack Carstairs as she pleads with her father to release her from their engagement. Jack returned from the Peninsular War scarred and disabled. Julia could live with his disfigurement and inability to trip the light fantastic, but his poverty is unforgivable. And so, disowned by his father, barred from war’s arena, and spurned by his fiancée, months later Jack still broods and drinks in his neglected estate like a big, handsome male version of Miss Havisham. Until Lady Cahill, his irascible, adorably officious grandmother, befriends Kate Farleigh, her deceased god-daughter’s daughter, and deposits her in his household, ostensibly as his housekeeper. Jack and Kate were wounded by the war. She followed the drum to care for her pastor-father and soldier-brothers until they died and, to her shame, was then captured and became a French officer’s mistress. Jack and Kate share a deep shame for their war experiences and cannot separate what happened to them from what they perceive their failures and shortcomings.
Miss Bates loved every moment of Gracie’s delightful “gallant waif” and brooding gentle giant. Gallant Waif is one of the most energetic romance novels Miss Bates has ever read and it’s largely due to Kate’s irrepressible effervescence. As Miss Bates tweeted to a Twitter friend, Gallant Waif is all of the Old Skool, none of the, ahem, excuse her language, bullshit. No rape, no “forced” seduction. A few passionate kisses sexier and more interesting than the reams of sex scenes found in many romances. Gracie’s novel reminded her of old school romance with feisty heroines who bounce back from adversity like ebullient kittens, heroes who are honourable, vulnerable, strong, and worthy.
Kate Farleigh is poor, orphaned, and ostracized, but she walks into the lion’s lair that is the surly, scowling Jack’s rundown estate and brings order, peace, and beauty where there were none. She wrestles dust bunnies, brews sublime coffee, and throws coffee pots at Jack’s head. In one magnificent scene, in a rage, she smashes all his liquor. Kate is a wonderful combination of goodness and spitting temper. She coaxes and bullies Jack out of his funk. Jack is a flabbergasted, stammering, gaping marshmallow. He grunts, rails, seethes, and fumes against Kate’s ministrations. He also comes alive, gains strength in his leg and puts a song in his heart. He is vexed when Kate won’t let him care for, or protect her. Miss Bates’ pleasure in Gallant Waif lay in characters who are larger-than-life, who are good and admirable. No, they’re not nuanced, complex, or angst-ridden. There are readers who might say they’re hyperbolic. Miss Bates *shrugs*: too often, in trying to prove its “seriousness,” the romance genre, like Hamlet, loses all its mirth. If you’re looking to recover yours, read Gallant Waif. Miss Bates is eternally grateful to MBRR’s commentator, Kathy, for a copy. She’s happy to let her readers know that Gallant Waif is available digitally after years of languishing in publishing limbo and romance readers’ yearning hearts.