Tallie’s Knight by Anne Gracie
(Harlequin Regency, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-51137-X
*****
Last summer, Anne Gracie’s The Gallant Waif was nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s “Best First Book” award. It didn’t win, but the fact that it was even nominated speaks volumes about the quality of Gracie’s writing. Here we have a book that hadn’t even been published in the United States yet (it will appear as a Harlequin Historical next month) by an Australian author no one had ever heard of making the short list of “best first books.” Quite an achievement.

After reading Gracie’s second book - a Regency romance published as part of Harlequin’s welcome effort to introduce British published books to the American audience - it becomes clear what impressed those author judges who gave her the nod. Gracie combines an impeccable knowledge of history, an ability to create vibrant and attractive characters, and excellent story telling ability. Tallie’s Knight is far and away the best Regency romance I have read in a long time.

Magnus, Earl of D’Avenville had never expected to marry. He had no desire to produce an heir to carry on the family name. Then, one afternoon while visiting a friend, he fell in love: with charming toddler. Suddenly, he decides that he wants children of his own but that will require a wife. So he asks his cousin Laetitia to host a house party and invite those young women who would be suitable candidates to become his countess. Given his wealth, position, and handsome looks, he has no doubt whomever he chooses will be delighted to marry him.

Magnus is disappointed with Laetitia’s candidates. All typical debutantes, they seem shallow and self-centered at best. He doubts their maternal instincts. Then, one afternoon, he discovers the perfect mother for his children as he watches while Miss Thalia Robinson defends little Georgie from his mother’s wrath.

Tallie has lived with her cousin Laetitia ever since leaving school. An orphan and penniless, she is grateful for her position as nursery governess to Laetitia’s three neglected children. She cherishes their love and returns it fully. She is also much beloved by the staff, who depend on her to keep the house running smoothly.

Laetitia is understandably incensed when Magnus informs her that he intends to wed her mousy cousin. Tallie is no happier. Like every young woman - and perhaps more than most - Tallie has dreamed of love and romance. She knows that the earl wants a conformable wife who will be content to bear and raise his children. Why would anyone want to marry a man who is widely known as “the Icicle”? Because of her cousin’s spite, she finds herself with a choice between penury and marriage to the earl. Reluctantly, she chooses marriage.

This is a tale that has been told before (Haven’t they all?): A cold, forbidding man whose heart is gradually warmed by a loving, giving woman. A man whose view of life has become jaded who begins to see the world in a new light through the eyes of his spontaneous bride. A man who thought he knew all about passion who discovers that innocence has its charm and that love changes everything. A man who has been grievously hurt by those who should have loved him who finds healing.

What matters in a good romance is not that the story be new but that the author take these tried and true elements and infuse them with warmth and charm. This Gracie does in spades. She also provides the hero and heroine with a grand adventure as they travel to France and on to Italy during the brief hiatus in the wars that followed the Peace of Amiens.

What also matters is the characters. Tallie is one of the most delightful heroines imaginable. She is warm and winning, innocent and wise. Like Magnus, the reader will fall in love with her. If Magnus is a prototypical romance hero, he is also a fully realized character. He is not a stereotype but a real human being.

What finally matters is the romance - and the love scenes. Here Gracie demonstrates a sure hand. We watch these two seemingly mismatched people fall in love, to each’s immense surprise. And if the road to true love is sometimes a bit bumpy, we understand why.

Tallie’s Knight has a lovely romance, great characters, exciting adventure, delightful humor, and great love scenes. Gracie admits that she came to Regency romance because of her love for the works of Georgette Heyer. The “Sainted Georgette” would be proud of her acolyte.

--Jean Mason


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