I have an irrational fear of reading books that receive a lot of praise. It’s nowhere near as intense as my fear of clowns (which is a totally legitimate thing and if you make fun of it, I will never share my cookies with you, thank you very much), but it certainly doesn’t help when the author is also a Twitter buddy of yours, whom you happen to align with politically. So when I was able to pick up an ARC of A Hope Divided, I knew I was in for it. What if my expectations were too high? What if it wasn’t a life-altering reading experience? And why the hell aren’t there more Civil War #OwnVoices romances anyway?
But I had to do it right. I had to read An Extraordinary Union (AND SERIOUSLY IT IS ON SALE RIGHT, NOW WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR EVEN) first. Which meant there was even more pressure. We’re talking about two books that have made ‘best of’ lists for the past two years, respectively.
I shouldn’t have worried. Romance Twitter never disappoints and these novels are no exception. Both books exceeded my already high expectations and are certainly near the top of my personal all-time favorites (not just 2017). More importantly, Cole holds nothing back when it comes to the Loyal League. The characterization, the prose, the subtle jabs at the current state of affairs…honestly, if you don’t come away from reading these books profoundly affected in some way, I doubt there’s anything that will spur you to rail against injustice.
The intertwining of past and present social themes is sheer brilliance. Yes, history repeats itself and yes, people need to pay some damn attention to the parallels and the warning signs and the terrifying feeling of déjà vu that seems to have a hold on a good number of people who have lived through fascist regimes. These are scary times, folks. This can’t be overstated. Some of our most talented pundits and scholars have repeatedly tried to beat us over the head with a boulder of truth, but it takes a truly gifted artist to break down a wall with a feather.
So…maybe I should (loosely) explain the plot of the books. The Loyal League is a group of Union sympathizers/activists/former slaves/you name it fighting to help turn the tide of the war in favor of the Northerners, which isn’t always easy. An Extraordinary Union tells the story of an undercover agent (Elle) who falls in love with a fellow agent (Malcolm, a Pinkerton detective) while working on an assignment. She’s a free black woman; he’s a white émigré from Scotland. I flew through it in under three hours. Yes, it’s that damn good. Our hero’s brother, Ewan, is the hero in A Hope Divided.
Ewan is much different from Malcolm. Malcolm’s tongue is as smooth as silk, but Ewan is more introspective and introverted. He struggles to say the right thing. He’s not a particularly good soldier, but he’s good at the task he’s eventually assigned (which I won’t spoil for you). Our heroine, Marlie, is quietly phenomenal. Her mother was a healer, a woman who used natural cures to fix what ailed her neighbors after being freed from bondage. Marlie is taken in by her mother’s former owners, the Lynches, at a young age, to have resources showered down on her and privileges she can’t even imagine. But, of course, that’s not as rosy as it sounds. Marlie is still a black woman, free or not, in the Civil War South. Thankfully, some in her family share her views and they covertly act to help the Union. Marlie visits the local prison, where she meets Ewan. They bond over philosophy, and when Ewan tries to escape one night and is injured, Marlie hides him in her attic room. From there our tangled plot unfurls.
The attraction grows, and this is yet another example of why I love historical romance. So much of the love, the attraction, the mutual respect all stem from the sexual tension and the delicate dance that leads to consummation. We get to know these characters before we, uh, KNOW them. Which makes it all the more fulfilling. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bang fest as much as the next gal, but there’s something about having to wait for it in an historical that gets me every time.
OH AND BONUS POINTS – EWAN IS A VIRGIN. DID I MENTION THAT IS MY CRACK? YES, THAT IS MY CRACK. VIRGIN. HERO.
The problem with truly great books is that it’s so hard to capture them without spoiling the story and drooling all over my computer. I’ve probably failed miserably at describing even the slightest bit of what happens in either plotline, but I can’t begin to do Cole’s writing justice. So I won’t dwell on this too much longer. Short version of my review: these books are effing phenomenal and deserve every accolade they receive. They are shiny, sparkling, glittery jewels of romance…but they’re so much more. I’m not one to use one of those annoying, tired expressions like “not your mother’s romance” or “you’ve never read a romance like this before,” because they’re copouts and they cheapen the genre. Instead I will say this: #OwnVoices writers have to work fifty times as hard to get half as much attention. There’s a reason these books are so fantastic. Because Alyssa worked her damn tail off and used her talents to the fullest. Do not miss out on this series. Seriously.
An Extraordinary Union: A-
The Civil War has turned neighbor against neighbor—but for one scientist spy and her philosopher soldier, war could bind them together . . .
For all of the War Between the States, Marlie Lynch has helped the cause in peace: with coded letters about anti-Rebel uprisings in her Carolina woods, tisanes and poultices for Union prisoners, and silent aid to fleeing slave and Freeman alike. Her formerly enslaved mother’s traditions and the name of a white father she never knew have protected her—until the vicious Confederate Home Guard claims Marlie’s home for their new base of operations in the guerilla war against Southern resistors of the Rebel cause.
Unbeknowst to those under her roof, escaped prisoner Ewan McCall is sheltering in her laboratory. Seemingly a quiet philosopher, Ewan has his own history with the cruel captain of the Home Guard, and a thoughtful but unbending strength Marlie finds irresistible.
When the revelation of a stunning family secret places Marlie’s freedom on the line, she and Ewan have to run for their lives into the hostile Carolina night. Following the path of the Underground Railroad, they find themselves caught up in a vicious battle that could dash their hopes of love—and freedom—before they ever cross state lines.
No excerpt available.