Joint Review: An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole


Title: An Extraordinary Union (The Royal League #1)
Date of publication: 28 March 2017
Genre: Historical romance, the Civil War 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
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My rating: 5 Stars


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 returns to the indignity of slavery in the South—to spy for the Union Army.

Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet—risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia.

Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy's favor. Caught in a tightening web of wartime intrigue, and fighting a fiery and forbidden love, Malcolm and Elle must make their boldest move to preserve the Union at any cost—even if it means losing each other


I can't believe I waited this long to read this. It's a remarkable, engaging romance with strong suspense elements, a romantic spy thriller during the US Civil War.

I loved both the hero and heroine each of whom went through a journey of their own. Elle is one of the best romance heroine I have read in a while. She is strong and independent and super smart (with eidetic memory) and she is a spy for the Royal League helping the Union. As a free Black working under the disgiuse of a mute slave, she has a lot to deal with without the added complication of meeting a charming white man (who also happens to be spy for RL)

Malcolm was a complex and intriguing hero. Charming and easy going, he is in fact closer to a beta hero than an alpha. I liked how him meeting Elle and getting to know her forced him to examine his his own hero/white saviour complex. And he was not bitter or angry over but rather accept he had a lot to and improve about himself and the world went on making both of them better. 

There was no easy sway for them to be together. They both first had to believe it was possible and then start working on making it a reality while still doing their mission. Their romance was very physical but also based on mutual respect and admiration. Elle is smarter than him and he is not intimidated by this, but rather in awe of her strengths, endurance.

She takes a risk, opens her heart to the impossible. There was much focus on the inner struggles between what she feels is her duty to herself and her people and the love she feels for Malcolm, willing to trust him. In the end they we were working together for the benefit of her people while following their hearts.

The story was full of plot twists and turns that kept me on the edge the whole time I was reading.

This is an exquisitely written story, rich in detail in the lives of slaves and slave owners and soldiers and rebels. All character are vivid, memorable. Highly recommended read!

Purchase links: Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | B&N

*** *** ***

Title: A Hope Divided (The Royal League #2)
Date of publication: 28 Nov 2017
Genre: Historical romance, the Civil War 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


The Civil War has turned neighbor against neighbor--but for one scientist spy and her philosopher soldier, war could bind them together . . . 

For three years 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.


This is the second book in the series and it's very different in tone than the first book despite the outward similarities. This is the story of Ewan, Malcolm's brother (who is a soldier and interrogator for the Union) falling for Marlie, a free mixed race woman (spy for the Union and healer woman).

It's a very character focused story where the suspense elements are less prominent than in the first book. For me it read like an exploration of the human soul with its darkest, scariest corners but there was also light and hope there too.

Marlie comes from tradition of healers but she also believes in science and she pracitces a mixture of hoodoo beliefs and scientific approach to healing. She leads a sort of privilege, sheltered life, while still helping the Union in her own small way. Then her world gets turned upside down and she finds herself questioning her own identity, her place and role in life. She goes through a lot of change in order to come to accept and understand the past, to find room for dreams and hopes for the future.

Ewan is just as complex, his world is actually in turmoil though outwardly he appears calm and in control of his life. It's only towards the end we see more of his inner struggles when he truly opens to Marlie. I admit I was taken aback by the whole torture aspect and his ability to rationalise and justify it. I much more subscribe to her view of violence/torture as hurting you as much as it hurts the other person. I remain ambivalent toward the hero, all the violence he did and the way it comes so easy/naturally to him makes me hesitant to fully stand by him. 

As far as the romance is concerned, I really wanted more of it. They meet under difficult circumstance and most of their time together they are on the run, hiding, which is not perfect situation for a romantic affair to bloom, yet my issues with it were different. Marlie and Ewan feel strong physical attraction to each other and find pleasure and comfort in each other's company but also they are keeping a lot of secrets, never really admitting it all, never truly opening up to each other until the very end. Add to this the fact that they have massively different views (which they both change in the course of the story) and I feel they didn't truly connect for most of the book. Their intimate connection is only forged after they share their worst secrets, and there are some ugly and scary things that the war has brought to the fore.

That said, I loved the details of the world he author (re)created, the complexity and multilayered-ness of the society both in the South and in the North. This story strays far away from the familiar stereotypical stories about the Civil War. It shows a less idealised, more real picture of all ordinary people who lived through it and how it affected from the very their very physical corporeal existence to shaking and fully destroying their souls.

There is a minor detail having to do with fertility problems which really bothered me and I just can't let it go. It's personal thing and most readers wouldn't notice/pay attention to it but for it was big deal and affected my enjoyment of the story.

Overall, I liked the story, the focus on the issues of identity and what makes us who we are, how free/not-free everybody is wase interesting to read. The romance didn't quite work for me and I felt its resolution was rather rushed, it left me wanting more redemption of the hero and more independence for the heroine.

I remain pretty invested in this series as a whole and I'm looking forward towards the next installment, An Unconditional Freedom, coming out in 2018.

Purchase links: Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | B&N

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