Review : An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Two things made me pick up this book: so many authors I love were raving about it on twitter, and that cover. *heart eyes* I fell in love with that cover before I even opened the book.
I am so very glad I did trust the recommendations and buy it immediately, and I am now going to tell you, Saucy Readers, why you should be reading this beautiful book by this amazing author and recommend it to everyone you know. Trust me!
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Practically everyone that knows me knows I have a life long love for historical romances. From the Regency Period, to the Victorian, to Medieval England, and everything possible in between. I've read them all. It's my favourite particular way to time travel into an era not my own, to step into the shoes of a woman as different from me as realistically possible, and to find out how exactly I relate to her. Which is why I am very specific about the ones I love. (No offense to the ladies happily hosting tea parties in the parlour, of course. There have been some great romances about them too. And I've loved many of those books in my lifetime. But those stopped being interesting to me a very long time ago.) They're the ones about the women who could be any of us trapped in a time that still hadn't caught up to where our minds were. The ones about the bluestockings, the intellectuals, the women scientists and scholars (who often couldn't even take credit for their amazing work) and healers and artists bound by a society that should by all accounts be worshiping at their feet composing odes to their brilliance. How does one survive in a an era where you KNOW you're of more value than what society has placed on you? (Side note: also relevant to me is how similar this is to pockets of modern day societies that still attempt to abide by these rules on the Continent I call home.)
My rambling point was, I've read it all, but there was always one period I avoided like the plague. Civil War America. For the simple reason that every single one I ever came across read as painfully problematic to my very non American mind. I picked up many along the way, famous ones, ones recommended by fellow readers online, but they were mostly cringeworthy stories of Southern Belles (a version of the parasol waving, doesn't know she's beautiful but is super gorgeous, tea party having heroine) and heroic soldiers fighting for a war because it was the "sexy" thing to do without any real conviction, at least not on page. Or stories where the war and slavery were just never mentioned. The ones about the well bred, and oh so civilized South. And boy, were these characters painful to read. The slaves were part of the stories simply to show us how the main characters deigned to treat them with some semblance of humanity, Native folk were mysterious, often sinister, wisdom touting characters who basically helped the hero in some way and then disappeared off page never to be seen again, freed Black people were sometimes portrayed as people who no longer cared about what happened in the South so long as they weren't in it & to appear on page just to tell the main characters what good white people they were. We were basically meant to see that they're hero material because they look people of colour in the eye and are kind to them and remember their names. That's it. That was the low bar set for these people to deserve an epic romance that I should read, and it just never sat well with me. It's one of the reasons I truly believe that some stories are not for everyone to tell. The evidence is all around us.
My aversion for the Civil War era romances has now ended, and it is because of Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union.
|Alyssa Cole is the one.|
Elle and Malcolm's first meeting itself makes the disparity between them, especially during the war being fought over owning other human beings, abundantly clear. I fell in love with Elle almost instantly, but the way she kept putting Malcolm in his place throughout the book just had me wanting to high-five her several times. She lays out the harsh reality of the world they're in for him in such plain terms, sometimes terms he hasn't considered from his privileged point of view, and God, I wish I was as amazing as her. I love prickly heroines. (Elle is one of my faves, along with Violet from Courtney Milan's The Countess Conspiracy. Guys, those two are spectacular women!) It's such a myth that women have to be unfailingly sweet & pleasant to be of value to men, in any time period. And I adore heroines who aren't necessarily going to be crowned Miss Congeniality by the people around them, especially at first glance. Elle is loving & sweet when she wants, but takes no crap from the people around her when she isn't working undercover as a slave. She's beyond brilliant, resourceful, brave, and someone you root for instantly.
Malcolm, on the other hand, is almost insufferably charming at times. He knows exactly how to get people to like and trust him almost immediately and honestly, I envy the skill a little. He falls for our Elle pretty much instantly, and who can blame him? Malcolm had his work cut out trying to convince Elle his interest in her was without an agenda, and not just some passing whim, or worse, a taste of the forbidden. I didn't blame Elle one bit for her caution whilst dealing with him, she was way too smart to fall for his charm right away. But once she started, that was it for both of them. And it was beautiful to watch. Not to mention. breathtakingly sexy."You're incredible," he said.
"I know," she replied in a tone that indicated she was only half listening.He grinned and continued reading her letters,"
The Caffrey's are a refreshing reminder of the reality behind the "genteel" Southerners who play heroes in some other stories. Susie Caffrey is vile, her parents not any better. The Senator reducing Elle to an object to be admired and speculated over made me sick, and think about others who hadn't been lucky enough to escape him. I don't want to spoil anything in this book for readers, but you will pretty much want Susie to get crushed by a runaway carriage till the very end.
"You think I want you for a taste of something taboo," he whispered. "But you're any man's dream: intelligent, brave, and so damn lovely I can't tear my eyes from you. That's why I want you."
An Extraordinary Union is an incredible story about these two Union spies. It's suspenseful, romantic, sexy, and educational. The side characters are well rounded, too. You'll want to know more about the enslaved people that Elle works with in the Caffrey's house, I was definitely wondering what would happen with Timothy, Mary, & Althea. Even Daniel. There is no watering down the horrors of slavery in America. But it does leave you with the feeling of hope, and admiration for the people, especially the Black people, who risked their lives to make their country a better place, and one they could someday be proud to call home.
This Wench rates it :
"We don't want revenge, Malcolm." She looked at him like he was the densest bastard to ever walk the earth. "We want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just like any damned fool on the United States is entitled to as long as he isn't Black or Red. So you can keep your outrage. All I can do is try to make a difference."