An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union

As the Civil War rages between the states, a courageous pair of spies plunge fearlessly into a maelstrom of ignorance, deceit, and danger, combining their unique skills to alter the course of history and break the chains of the past . . .Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she retur...

Title:An Extraordinary Union
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Edition Language:English

An Extraordinary Union Reviews

  • Tina

    4.5 stars

    This is a really good book.

    First let me get out of the way that this is a traditional historical romance, complete with loving and sexing and sexing an loving.

    But it has more in common with some old skool romances than in hist-roms written more recently in that the author uses the events of the time as actual historical detail -- not just wallpaper history -- to give the story a lot of texture and grounds it in its plot.

    In the early days of the Civil War, Elle Burns is a black free wom

    4.5 stars

    This is a really good book.

    First let me get out of the way that this is a traditional historical romance, complete with loving and sexing and sexing an loving.

    But it has more in common with some old skool romances than in hist-roms written more recently in that the author uses the events of the time as actual historical detail -- not just wallpaper history -- to give the story a lot of texture and grounds it in its plot.

    In the early days of the Civil War, Elle Burns is a black free woman who is from the North and has been accepted (somewhat reluctantly because she is a woman) as an agent in a league of spies called the Loyal League. The reason? She has an eidetic memory. She can remember anything she reads, hears or sees perfectly down to last detail. While this 'gift' has allowed her to serve her country which she does gladly and fiercely, she also somewhat despises it because it has made her feel more like a curiosity rather than a person. She is intelligent even without her gift but all her life she had been trotted out and asked to perform and never really seen. But she will use any weapon in her arsenal to help rbing victory to the north and end slavery.

    Malcolm McCall is also a northern spy. He is a member of the Pinkerton detective agency and has had to assume all sorts of identities in the course of his work. He is a white man, handsome, affable, charming. Able to talk his way out of any trouble. He has an easy way about him and lures people in so that when he knows he has them on his hook he makes a mental note "

    ."

    Unbeknownst to each other at first, Elle and Malcolm find themselves on the same case, chasing a rumor that the South has a way to break the Northern blockade. They are stationed in Richmond Virginia. Elle is posing as a mute slave who is on loan to a rich Southern senator's family. She acts as the general maid for their spoiled daughter Susie. Malcolm is undercover in as a Rebel soldier who, through an elaborate subterfuge set up by his superiors and Lincoln himself, attempted an unsuccessful assassination of Lincoln. Even though it did not work, he is welcomed and feted by the senator and is an object of infatuation of Susie.

    The two meet in a small dining room in the Caffrey's home where Elle is setting a table and Malcolm ducks in to read a smuggled message. It is at this meeting the the book beautifully sets up what becomes the major point of tension in this relationship. Malcolm is a man who truly, really believes in the equality of people. He doesn't feel that blacks are inferior and he strongly wants slavery to end. So when he comes upon Elle he doesn't

    her as a slave, but just as a pretty servant doing her job. But Elle doesn't know that. She's been chafing at her role. She was a free woman who had the freedom of her own movements. Now she is at the beck and call of a petulant woman and is aware 24/7 of the precariousness of her situation. She is now chattel. Even if it is undercover, she is not free and her body is not her own.

    This is only the first of many times where we see how place and position cause Elle and Malcolm to view events differently based on their perspective. It isn't a heavy handed thing, but it is a very present thing. One that Elle is much more attuned to than Malcolm.

    As romantic conflict goes this can't be beat. I mean, a slave -- even one undercover -- and a white man in the south is very taboo. And it isn't just society but the inner conditioning of Elle herself that must be overcome. That it is Elle who must deal with this conditioning is also telling. Malcolm has the surety and conviction of his white male privilege that they can be together. But Elle has never had the luxury of thinking that way.

    The two of them discover they are both undercover and must work as a team. This delights Malcolm who finds Elle not only beautiful but the more time he spends with her he becomes entranced with her mind. He sees her, not just her 'gift'.

    The storytelling is great because Malcolm and Elle are spies and there is always that level of danger of discovery. They must lurk in rooms, look for documents, find places to meet to exchange information. But even so, there is that second level of danger that Elle must face that Malcolm doesn't. No matter what situation they are in, she is always in a more precarious position than he is. As a reader I was aware of that tension, it made the book exciting but a suspenseful as well. Because not only is their spying something that is in danger of being discovered, but also their romance. And not only from the white folks, but also by the black folks. Elle is very conscious of what the other slaves feel and think. And the book makes a point to show the thoughts, perspectives and inner lives of the other slaves in the household. Many of whom are playing their own roles in a much more subtle way.

    I like that Malcolm begins to really understand this on a real, practical level not just on a academic level. He starts to feel the frustration of their situation and for once it is not something he can just charm his way out of:

    But still, this is a romance and Malcolm and Elle fall in love. He is very quick to fall, which is where I take a half star off. He is all in almost immediately. Elle takes longer not just because of the taboo of their romance but she doesn't actually know if she can trust a white man who so easily puts on a different face and performs a role. She is wary about how

    this all is to him.

    But they are young, healthy and sexy so they get their sex on. Cuz, like I said, this is primarily a romance. There is a lot of danger and close calls and a very exciting climax with some rescues and high seas derring-do.

    There is an epilogue that makes you feel that these two really do get their HEA and also sets it up for a sequel. I am so very much here for that. I hope they show up prominently in the next book. I would love to see Elle and Malcolm again.

    Very much recommended.

  • Ira

    Wow, I'm not sure how to describe how I feel about this book but I want to say this first, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book!

    I read interracial romance story from this era before but not between the Scott born and an ex slave. They couldn't even seen talking, let's alone fall in love, how they can end up loving each other like this and continue to do their detective work?

    This book is honest, raw, exciting, harsh, plenty suspense and it will break your heart but a beautiful forbidden love story too.

    Ms.

    Wow, I'm not sure how to describe how I feel about this book but I want to say this first, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book!

    I read interracial romance story from this era before but not between the Scott born and an ex slave. They couldn't even seen talking, let's alone fall in love, how they can end up loving each other like this and continue to do their detective work?

    This book is honest, raw, exciting, harsh, plenty suspense and it will break your heart but a beautiful forbidden love story too.

    Ms. Cole didn't shy away with her words, they real and made me had to stop often in the middle reading this because it hurts.

    My feeling all over the place right now, this is not an easy read, but then you feel rewarded once you reach the end:)

    I might add something else later on but you probably will enjoy reading this more if you don't peek too many reviews:). And if you love Historical Romance, you MUST read this beautiful love story and if you don't read HR, perhaps you can start with this one, it is not only about romance but it give you a little bit of American history too which is not always a pretty read.

    Btw, I found about this couple whose the case smashed the last slavery law in the USA.

    And here their story, if you interested:)

    This is my honest review, thank you for Netgalley who made me able read this book early:)

    Guess what ladies?

    Alyssa tweet, next is Ewan's book:)

  • K.J. Charles

    Exceptional. A standout example of historical romance as it should be: deeply and solidly grounded in reality, no soft-soaping or viewing the past through Vaseline-smeared lenses, but with a passionate insistence on people's ability to strive for the best in ourselves.

    This book is a blast of rage against America's grotesque and obscene history of racism and abuse. Elle, our heroine, is *bloody furious*, and should be. Black and female, she's sidelined and disregarded by damn near everyone, incl

    Exceptional. A standout example of historical romance as it should be: deeply and solidly grounded in reality, no soft-soaping or viewing the past through Vaseline-smeared lenses, but with a passionate insistence on people's ability to strive for the best in ourselves.

    This book is a blast of rage against America's grotesque and obscene history of racism and abuse. Elle, our heroine, is *bloody furious*, and should be. Black and female, she's sidelined and disregarded by damn near everyone, including the unionists for whom she spies. But her apparent unimportance is her second greatest weapon: the Confederate dunces' refusal to see her as human also means they don't notice her listening to them. (Her greatest weapon is an eidetic memory. This is based on a real black woman spy named Mary Bowser, Cole says. I need that biography.)

    The romance conflict is very much around Elle's difficulty in trusting Malcolm, not only because he's white but because his superpower is charm and she's not stupid. He's a very likeable character, as he grows in understanding and empathy, and his respect for and partnership with Elle is marvellous, but this is Elle's book. One of the most interesting things is, where Malcolm can give himself wholeheartedly and put Elle above their shared cause, Elle can't do the same for him. She will always be wary of a brutal, unjust world. And, in one of the most powerful scenes, when Malcolm is apparently lost to her after they've declared their love, Elle

    . It would risk a lot of her fellows' lives and her mission to stop the Confederacy, and she puts those before her own love and agony, and Malcolm's life. It's an exceptional decision in a romance which in no way undermines the love story; rather, it gives us a sense of the characters on a grand stage and the stakes, personal and political, for which they fight.

    Tense spy adventure, sweeping romance, powerful history, blast of outrage. A fab read, and a gorgeous cover on top. I can't wait for the next book.

  • The FountainPenDiva, Old school geek chick and lover of teddy bears

    Many, many, many years ago I started reading one of my grandmother's bodice ripper romances set in the antebellum South. I never finished it. I don't remember what it was called or who the author was, but I do remember throwing the damn book in the trash, after I'd ripped it to shreds. Now, the idea of destroying books wasn't something I was into, and still don't do no matter how cra

    Many, many, many years ago I started reading one of my grandmother's bodice ripper romances set in the antebellum South. I never finished it. I don't remember what it was called or who the author was, but I do remember throwing the damn book in the trash, after I'd ripped it to shreds. Now, the idea of destroying books wasn't something I was into, and still don't do no matter how craptastic a book is. However, the sheer fuckwittery of this author in depicting some mythical, genteel South, full of beautiful southern belles, sipping mint juleps on shady verandas, while dancing attendance on handsome southern suitors, all the while completely ignoring (or in this case glamorizing) the horrors of human chattel slavery which made such lives possible was way more than I could deal with. That book featured every bad, racist trope: happy slaves singing as they worked the fields and paternalistically childlike house servants who saw no reason for freedom. Needless to say, that travesty pretty much soured me on any "romance" that was set in that era, especially books that read as thinly-veiled propaganda trying to make the spurious claim that "slavery really wasn't that bad". I ended friendships with fellow readers who didn't see the harm in such stories, and I have zero regrets about doing so. Moreover, it boggles the imagination that some authors of BW/WM romances set their historicals in this dark time period, and somehow expect me to believe a Black female slave had agency, even if the owner or son of the owner, was willing to forsake everything to be with her. Did that happen in real life? There is evidence that such unions existed, but that doesn't mean I want to suspend my disbelief. Not to mention, why slavery? Why perpetuate the notion that Black History began on these shores?

    So why did I read, and end up loving this? Two reasons:

    1) The author Alyssa Cole, first grabbed my attention with her Scottish historical IR

    . THIS, was the kind of historical romance I'd been craving from IR authors. It was short, but pushed all my happy historical romance nerd chick buttons. It also featured a dark-skinned, natural haired Black heroine with agency and intelligence. She was no swooning damsel in distress, nor was she someone's property. Black people can be found throughout the history of the world, and not as subservient. Another reason why I love Beverly Jenkins, who has been getting this for a long time.

    2) The cover. Given the publishing world's penchant for whitewashing and erasure of PoC, and the continuing colorist fail I see in some IR romances, it is vitally important to me, as a Black woman of hue, that my darker sisters are represented as objects of love and affection. Not only is this cover spectacular, but you can clearly see the heroine's resolve as well as her beauty.

    The moment I read the blurb, I realized Elle (aka Ellen) was based on Mary Bowser, a Black woman with an eidetic memory who worked for the traitorous confederate president Jefferson Davis, all the while funneling information to the North. Elle is a free Black woman who works for the Loyal League, a group infiltrating the South in order to gain intelligence. As a mute slave in the Caffrey household, she gleans information while suffering the indignities of being considered "inferior". Despite this being a romance, the author does not gloss over the day to day cruelties inflicted upon slaves. There are no scenes of the lash, but the terror of the smallest mistake, the separation of parents and children, or husbands and wives, at the owners whim. What worked for me is that despite her circumstances, Elle had agency. She had a rich life beyond her disguise as a slave. She made choices when it came to her survival, to insuring Union victory. And when she chose to give herself to Malcolm, a man she shouldn't want, she takes control of what she can. And though she works on behalf of the Union, Elle is quite cognizant of those who view her skill as something "unusual" in her race. Benign racism is just as bad as overt racism.

    The Susie Caffreys of the book are still with us, unfortunately. We know them. We've always known them. The ones who use their privilege against women who don't look like them, who side with the oppressor rather than the oppressed. The ones who fail at intersectionality.

    Then there is Malcolm McCall. This passage sums him up perfectly:

    An agent for Pinkerton, he uses his vast skills to infiltrate and undermine the southern war effort. A chance encounter with the disguised Elle becomes a lot more than just another assignment. Elle's resourcefulness, resilience, her singular talent and her beauty are too much for him to resist. He falls and falls hard. And there's an interesting dynamic about that - just the freedom as a White male to fall in love as he chooses, though the woman he wants is societally and culturally out of bounds. A fact that Elle has to remind him again and again, despite her own feelings.

    This is one of my favorite passages from the book:

    Sad to say, no matter how we protest, our humanity is still in question for some.

    This is one story that will stay with me for a very long time. It was at times, a difficult read. Yes it was at the end of the day, a romance, and the wonderful thing is that love knows no boundaries.

  • Mei

    When I requested this book from Netgalley, I thought it would be a usual historical romance with just a black woman as heroine. Boy, was I wrong!!!

    This is so much more!!!

    I loved the heroine, Elle! She's just plain extraordinary! I loved her strength and courage, her smartness, her incredible mind, her sharp and sometimes snarky remarks! There wasn't anything I would have changed!

    In an era when being woman, black and, on top, slave was th

    When I requested this book from Netgalley, I thought it would be a usual historical romance with just a black woman as heroine. Boy, was I wrong!!!

    This is so much more!!!

    I loved the heroine, Elle! She's just plain extraordinary! I loved her strength and courage, her smartness, her incredible mind, her sharp and sometimes snarky remarks! There wasn't anything I would have changed!

    In an era when being woman, black and, on top, slave was the worst place to be, she was truly an exception! She was also versatile: posing as a slave she was a submissive mute girl, being a spy for the Union she was smart and cunning, being a woman attracted to a white man she was intelligent and clearheaded! What more do you want?!!!

    Malcolm was a great character too! He's also a Union's spy posing as a Rebel. At first he's confused by Elle and doubted her ability as a spy, but what I appreciated was the fact that he was able to appreciate her abilities without being overbearing and without acting as

    !

    Obviously, their relationship was impossible during the Civil War, but that didn't stop them from falling in love! And it was falling in

    not lust!

    Their situation: her a slave and he a white rebel in the same house, both spying - was incredibly complicated! He has to pretend to court the southern belle, daughter of the Secessionist senator and his host, while she was reviled by the same woman in every way! OMG!!!

    I was twisting my hands while reading of how she suffered and how he felt guilty because of that! But still they persevered because of their conviction that the Union cause was just and that slavery was deeply wrong and should have been obliterated! They were truly ready to sacrifice themselves in every way! Admirable!

    Being this a romance, there're many smexy times, lusting thoughts, admiring looks etc, but there's also a great story about spying, about what slavery means to a person, about how miserable were those who wanted to maintain it!

    I loved this book to pieces! For al who wants to read an unusual love story, this is a must!

  • Deanne Patterson

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I requested this book. I mean this is an interracial couple during the civil war. They can't even be seen talking together let alone any hint of anything more. She is a former slave who trades her freedom for a life of slavery to spy for the Union Army. He is a detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service.She is a spitfire,smart,sassy and goes after what she wants. A steamy forbidden romance filled with espionage romance it will pull you in and not let you go until

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I requested this book. I mean this is an interracial couple during the civil war. They can't even be seen talking together let alone any hint of anything more. She is a former slave who trades her freedom for a life of slavery to spy for the Union Army. He is a detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service.She is a spitfire,smart,sassy and goes after what she wants. A steamy forbidden romance filled with espionage romance it will pull you in and not let you go until you read the last word!

    Definitely an author to read more of!

    Pub Date 28 Mar 2017

    Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

  • Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell

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    The first book I ever read by Alyssa Cole was

    . Like AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, BE NOT AFRAID is a Civil War-era historical romance told from an African American perspective. Unlike EXTRAORDINARY, BE NOT is short & wasn't able to utilize its length well. As much as I appreciated reading a fictional account of history from a perspective we need

    of, I ended up being disappointed, although I did say that if the author wrote

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    The first book I ever read by Alyssa Cole was

    . Like AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, BE NOT AFRAID is a Civil War-era historical romance told from an African American perspective. Unlike EXTRAORDINARY, BE NOT is short & wasn't able to utilize its length well. As much as I appreciated reading a fictional account of history from a perspective we need

    of, I ended up being disappointed, although I did say that if the author wrote a full length novel, I would be back.

    Well, she did, so here I am!

    And I am

    to be back, because AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION was everything I had been hoping to get out of BE NOT AFRAID. EXTRAORDINARY features a strong, female protagonist in the form of Elle Burns, a young African American woman with an eidetic memory who is a spy for the North. The hero, Malcolm McCall, is also a spy. He's Scottish, but is in a better position than most white people at this time to understand what it's like to be used and dehumanized because of the horrible things he experienced during the Jacobite Rebellion.

    Their paths cross at the house of an odious Southern family, the Caffreys. Elle is posing as a mute slave. Malcolm is posing as a Confederate soldier, come home to bask in the glory while secretly gathering information and exchanging it with other spies. He falls for Elle pretty much on sight, and his admiration of her only grows as he learns more about the role she's playing in the house and the secret brilliance of her mind. Getting her to trust him is another thing entirely, though.

    EXTRAORDINARY UNION is a roller coaster of a read. There is so much action, so much danger, and the main characters are both so likable that you desperately want them to survive and find happiness. Elle is such an amazing heroine, she's so brave and smart. And Malcolm is a dashing hero who is so ahead of his time. I shipped them immediately, and spent the rest of the book gnawing at my fingernails the way hardcore

    fans do whenever they start the new season. Cole manages to capture the sheer awfulness of the time period and the inherently racist societal structures that helped perpetuate slavery and racism with the ease that Octavia Butler did in

    (although far less graphically!), while also showing the complex nuances that relationships at this time period could have, whether it's the kindness a slaveholder might bestow upon a slave (and how disturbing it is, that treating someone as a human being might be regarded as a mere courtesy), or the hypocrisy some Union soldiers had, seeing the people whose rights they were allegedly seeking as nothing more than a means to an end. The result? A romance that lays out the facts and makes you think.

    I saw that this book was the first in a series, and I am so excited because it's been a while since I found a historical romance series that captured my fancy like this one. Her style is reminiscent of Beverly Jenkins's (and you can imagine the shrill fangirl squeal I emitted when I saw her thank Jenkins in her acknowledgements section), with a dash of Elizabeth Hoyt. Somehow, she manages to combine Jenkins's broad scope with Hoyt's steamy romance.

    P.S. Eff you, Susie. You're officially the Joffrey of this book universe.

    4 to 4.5 stars

  • Layeshia

    This is the first time That I have red a story by AlyssiaCole. And it definitely will not be my last. This is the very extraordinary love story Of Elle and Malcolm. What makes the story this love story if he will extraordinary is the color of their skins. She was a black woman he was a white man both fighting for the same cause to free slaves. And win the Civil War for the north. Both were spies working for the north when they met. Although Iwas very suspicious Malcolm and FIRST. Because she cou

    This is the first time That I have red a story by AlyssiaCole. And it definitely will not be my last. This is the very extraordinary love story Of Elle and Malcolm. What makes the story this love story if he will extraordinary is the color of their skins. She was a black woman he was a white man both fighting for the same cause to free slaves. And win the Civil War for the north. Both were spies working for the north when they met. Although Iwas very suspicious Malcolm and FIRST. Because she couldn't trust anyone much less someone dressed as a rebel and because he was watching her with Romance in his heart But the obvious question was could she trust him with her secrets as a spy as well as her heart I thoroughly enjoy this story I've often wondered if two people during that time black-and-white could actually meet and fall in love I know that their union as a marriage would not be legal but could they actually fall in love during that time and I think that they could and that they did I will definitely be reading more of Ms Cole's stories in the near future I definitely recommend this book to you.

  • Deetimes

    Alyssa Cole's "An Extraordinary Union" was an exceptional historical romance fiction with all the feels overflowing even with the compact and content of the era...The Civil War. This was Malcom and Elle's extraordinary love story and it was an inspiring one too!!!

    If you enjoy historical romance with suspense, well "An Extraordinary Union "is one book I strongly recommend to you because as extraordinary as it was it broke down the ideal that even in that era love didn't have a color. Elle was bl

    Alyssa Cole's "An Extraordinary Union" was an exceptional historical romance fiction with all the feels overflowing even with the compact and content of the era...The Civil War. This was Malcom and Elle's extraordinary love story and it was an inspiring one too!!!

    If you enjoy historical romance with suspense, well "An Extraordinary Union "is one book I strongly recommend to you because as extraordinary as it was it broke down the ideal that even in that era love didn't have a color. Elle was black and Malcolm, a white man who both were spies fighting for the same cause of freeing slaves during the Civil War up North.

    Trust was a theme in this story because of their skin color and even some nurture versus nature philosophy. Smart, Elle being Black or Colored and charismatic Malcolm, White well who can you believe. But good Malcolm trusted Elle with love in his heart and this love enveloped itself around them both. But remember in that era any type of union or marriage would not be considered legal.. so can they continue their romance or just work together to free the slaves.

    Beautiful Historical Romance

    5 extraordinary stars *****

  • Tiffany Reisz

    Wonderful historic romance. The characters were fantastic and richly drawn, sexy and sympathetic and fun to read about. I will definitely read the forthcoming sequel.


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