About three years ago, Miss Bates loved Maisey Yates’s HP, Pretender To the Throne. Her recent Yates read, Last Chance Rebel, has much in common, though the mythical-kingdom setting is nothing like the small-town-feel of Copper Ridge, Oregon. Nevertheless, both novels are about contending and making peace with the past, recognizing internal patterns hindering connection and love, and how forgiveness of self and others heals us, the other, and the community.
Last Chance Rebel is Yates’s eleventh Copper Ridge, Oregon series romance and more are out, or planned. Yates has created one of the great contemporary rom series around this community. Her view of it is neither rose-coloured nor condemnatory. Instead, she focusses on interweaving various members’ lives as they come face to face with the incontrovertible fact of love, a feeling so strong, so vibrant, and so frightening that Copper Ridge’s men and woman alternately run to and from it. Like Pretender To the Throne, Last Chance Rebel has a physically scarred heroine, scars caused by the hero’s carelessness. Like Pretender To the Throne, family circumstances bring the hero home to confront his past and role in the heroine’s life. Like Pretender To the Throne, the heroine’s rage against the hero is explosive and the hero’s guilt and atonement, spectacular.
Part of the reason why Miss Bates stays faithful to Yates’s saga-proportioned Copper Ridge series is that she loves the characters. Rebecca Bear and Gage West are wonderful: angry, stubborn, wounded, flawed. Given what happened seventeen years ago, Gage causing the accident that scarred Rebecca and his daddy paying her mother off to keep it quiet, Rebecca’s fire-breathing wrath is his prodigal-son’s-return just reward. This makes, Miss B. thought, for a fireworks first half to the novel. When it opens, Rebecca is setting up her knickknack store, the Trading Post, for Christmas and in walks “her own personal demon in cowboy boots”.
Gage returns to Copper Ridge with the news of his father’s heart attack and confronts his family’s reactions, all characters we’ve encountered in previous Copper Ridge novels, some of whom were heroes or heroines and some who will be. Though Gage doesn’t see how he can be redeemed, either in his family’s or Rebecca’s eyes, yet he will do the right thing whatever his reluctant donning of West family-head demands. He will set the West house in order and ensure that Rebecca is well taken care of financially.
Gage has been secretly bankrolling Rebecca’s business and is now going to sign over her store’s rental property, his father’s, to her. Except Rebecca is both fiercely independent and angry as hell when Gage walks into her store. She’s not interested in having him assuage his soul with reparations. She’s not willing to play victim to make him feel better. And she’s certainly not going to aid and abet his redemptive efforts by taking his hand-outs. Except Gage believes he’s beyond redemption:
But he had never pretended he wasn’t guilty. He was guilty. Straight down to the center of his soul, if he even had one left. He wasn’t looking for atonement, wasn’t searching for absolution. It wasn’t to be had. He simply wanted to fix what he could.
Rebecca is determined to work off any “gift” Gage offers and shows up at his lake-side cottage (across the lake from her more humble one) to work off her debts.
Miss Bates thought this was lame way to bring about the hero and heroine’s confrontations, but at least it was in keeping with Rebecca’s “take no hand-outs” ‘tude. By bringing them together in this way, at least we are treated to Yates’s rapid-fire, fury-filled dialogue. A snippet will tell you everything you need to know about Gage and Rebecca’s initial encounter: ” ‘I’m happy to let you carry around my suffering.’ ‘I don’t want your suffering,’ he said, studying her from those impenetrable eyes. ‘But I would like to give you the building.’ ” Yates seals these characters up: Gage believes he’s beyond redemption; therefore, he can close off his heart; Rebecca believes herself beyond forgiveness (with the great line she throws at Gage, ” ‘I am the cautionary tale of your excess.’ “); therefore, she can seal herself off from connection.
One of Yates’s writing strengths is her ability to show the internal scars that close off her characters and then crack them open when liking, sympathy, empathy, friendship, attraction, and love enter the picture. On the other hand, with a premise is so fraught and painful, as Gage and Rebecca’s, this can also be a narrative downfall. The novel’s second half suffers in two ways: nothing happens, a stasis sets in where the characters’ emotional growth is the sole account; secondly, because Yates is working so hard at describing her characters’ emotional breaking down and the unearthing of those childhood traumas that froze them in an emotional wasteland, the prose becomes repetitive and confused. Emotional, like sexual, states are difficult to convey in “words, words, words”, because, in a sense, they’re beyond description. Romance is the genre that comes closest and also breaks down under the strain. Purple prose, anyone? What Miss B. is saying, and badly at that, is that romance needs a balance between internal and external to achieve narrative success. Yates’s Last Chance Rebel is one of its many victims, but an awfully good one.
Miss Bates can’t quit Copper Ridge and, dammit, is intrigued to read Rebecca’s brother’s, Jonathan’s, story. As for Last Chance Rebel, Misses Bates and Austen would say it offers “real comfort,” Emma. Maisey Yates’s Last Chance Rebel is published by HQN Books. It was released in August 2016 and may be acquired from your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from HQN Books, via Netgalley.