Monday, May 1, 2017

An Extraordinary Union

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (2017)

In the midst of the Civil War, a young black woman with a remarkable memory goes undercover as a slave to spy for the Union. Elle works in the household of a senator with an extremely spoiled daughter, both very loyal to the Confederacy. Southern belle Susie is self-centered and determined to get what she wants - and she sights her sights on Rebel soldier Malcolm McCall. But Malcolm is also a spy and he only has eyes for Elle. Can Elle and Malcolm work together to help the Union without being caught? And can a white man and black woman forge a romantic relationship in a society that views her as less than human?

Hot off the press! I've read so much about this book and, of course, totally love the cover (even though my library put a barcode on top of Elle's face - WHY??) You can't tell from this image, but it's a trade paperback and the cover is textured. So fancy!

It's hard to buy a happily ever after for an interracial couple during the Civil War but I know there were mixed-race couples even at that time. It just couldn't have been easy. But if anyone deserves happiness, it's Elle Burns. She is incredibly smart, and not just because she can remember everything she's ever seen and done in perfect detail. She's intuitive, resourceful, and has excellent judgement. Malcolm is ok too. He abhors slavery and finds it difficult to act otherwise, which he needs to as an undercover Rebel soldier. He obviously cares about Elle and appreciates all her best qualities, but she's definitely superior in most ways. I found them both believable though. They were good people, but not too perfect to believe.

The inherent inequality of their relationship is addressed a bit, and Malcolm is completely aware of what it looks like to outsiders, or even to Elle. Knowing how many white men enjoy taking advantage of slaves, Malcolm was sure to be clear with Elle that he wasn't just looking for a good time. He wanted a relationship and respected her as much as any white women (and way more than some of them.) Elle, too, had very mixed feelings about having sex with a white man. I also loved that Elle is not a virgin. I'm so sick of romances in which the heroine is completely unexperienced (and usually totally clueless) and the hero is very experienced and must teach her all the things. (But of course the sexytimes are better with her than any other woman because magic.) Having a past relationship gave Elle more nuance than most romance characters, and I think was integral to the maturity and strength of her character.

Being an undercover slave was fraught with danger, and there were some narrow escapes. As the attraction grew between Malcolm and Elle, Susie became more of a threat. She was part of a Vigilance Committee that rooted out traitors to the South, and her pettiness and disregard for people rose to the fore every time Malcolm resisted her advances. Interestingly, we were given a little bit of insight into why she was so horrible. It wasn't developed quite as much as I liked, but I appreciate that she wasn't wholly two-dimensional.

Overall I really enjoyed this story, which is the first of a series. I'm so glad to have found another author writing historical romances set in the U.S. I've also read Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath, and both Forbidden and Breathless by Beverly Jenkins, but wasn't aware of other authors writing American historicals. I love a good Regency, but there's so much to explore here as well and it's nice to see another author doing just that.

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