An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole's An Extraordinary Union is ambitious: it's a Civil War-era action/romance featuring a biracial couple, both of whom were inspired by real historical figures. (The heroine is based on Mary Bowser, the hero on Timothy Webster.) Cole doesn't stick every landing, but her story succeeds on an impressive number of fronts.

An Extraordinary Union centers around Elle Burns, a freed black woman with an eidetic memory. Determined to use her gift to help the Union Army, Elle becomes a spy, posing as a mute slave in the home of a Confederate Senator. There she meets Malcolm McCall, a fellow undercover agent disguised as a rebel soldier. Elle and Malcolm are overwhelmed by their attraction to one another, but every interaction increases their risk of discovery.

Cole is excellent at action and suspense sequences, which don't always mesh well with her romantic storyline. I liked this novel's central pairing, but every time the characters were alone together I was bracing myself for disaster. (It's not a good sign when your first thought about a sex scene is: Guys, don't you have more important things to do?!?) Elle is more interesting than Malcolm, but they're both intelligent, appealingly complex characters. Unfortunately, the novel's most memorable villain—an outrageously spoiled Southern Belle—is so over-the-top evil she borders on camp. I'm hoping the antagonists in the next installment of this series will be less mustache-twirly, so Cole can better showcase the stuff she does well: interesting protagonists, thoughtful historical world-building, and thrilling scenes of derring-do.
Posted by: Julianka


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