AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union

So it’s only since starting my day job at an * internationally renowned romance imprint * just under a year ago that I really ever ran my eyeballs over historical romantic fiction – up until then it had never really been my jam, but come to find out: it’s a vibe! But thus far for me it’s been primarily a Regency reading experience, and also woefully lacking in non-white characters, especially in the central roles. But having heard umpteen positive things about Alyssa Cole’s The Loyal League series, and most especially the first book in the series, AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, my interest was, indeed, piqued. And my interest in US history went all the way to degree level, so I’m not gonna lie – a romance between a born-free woman undercover as a slave in the South during the Civil War, and a Union detective undercover as a Confederate soldier, at first seemed likely to be… challenging.

But in the hands of a skilled, thoughtful writer such as Alyssa Cole, this pairing proved to be sexy, romantic and compelling, while never shying away from the genuine socio-political issues that will face Elle and Malcolm as they navigate their attraction to one another. Elle is, to say the very least, resistant to trusting the admittedly gorgeous, charming Scotsman as they warily work together to foil a potentially disastrous Confederate plot, and she articulates the wider concerns of falling for a man whose kinsman (at best) view her as less-than. Elle is also cognisant of the fact that Malcolm could, even in spite of his protestations, have a fetishised or skewed view of her sexually (or otherwise) as a black woman. But Cole is at pains to convince us not only of Malcolm’s genuine love and respect for Elle, but also gives our heroine absolute agency, clarity, intelligence and beauty. Elle is the star of the show for me in this story – a thoughtful and well-rounded character, wonderfully nuanced. Cole even considers how Elle’s eidetic memory, a hugely powerful tool in her undercover work, also made her a painful novelty as a young girl, serving as awkward proof of her ‘humanity’ even amongst abolitionists whose hearts were supposedly in the right place.

It’s only the very discomfort that lingers, that re-memory of which Toni Morrison so eloquently wrote, that prevented me from full-throttle love for this love story – but Ms Cole has handled a difficult premise incredibly well, giving us a clever, adventure-filled, sexy angle on forbidden love. And any writer that cites Ta-Nehisi Coates’ articles as an influence is grand in my book. Extraordinary indeed.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                 4/5

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