Rating: ★★★★ | 03/28/2017 | Historical Romance | 263 Pages | Kensington | Amazon
An Extraordinary Union tells the story of Elle Burns, a free black women who uses her eidetic memory to spy for the Union Army. Her latest mission sends her undercover as a house slave in a Confederate senator’s house where she quickly becomes tangled up with Malcolm McCall, a Scottish Pinkerton posing as a confederate soldier. Elle and Malcolm’s forbidden relationship heats up through stolen moments on stakeouts and secret nighttime rendezvous that often get interrupted by horse chases and other nonstop action.
I didn’t quite know how a historical interracial relationship would come off in a romance novel but Cole makes it work. Malcolm and Elle find out their true identities early on and Cole carefully lays out the power dynamics and real danger of interracial relationship as they become closer.
Slavery can be a tricky thing to portray in romance and Cole takes the time to give agency to the other household slaves Elle encounters, sprinkling in little bit of knowledge about how much the Confederate Army depended on slaves and how slaves sometimes used that dependence to help their advantage.
I live in Richmond, Virginia where this book takes places and I tried to take my copy on a little tour.
Mary Browser, the woman that Elle is based on, was actually a spy in Jefferson Davis’ house…which is near my job and right down the street from my favorite lunch cart. The house looks so small and inconsequention now, surrounded by a big hospital system. It’s so crazy to think about all the history that happened there.
Then I went to Brown’s Island. Brown’s Island is where all the outdoor concerts happen but during the Civil War it was where ammunition for the confederate army was produced. Information about ammunition and cannons is the kind of information Elle and Malcolm smuugle to the Union Army. Brown’s Island is alsosurrounded by the James River, where some of the biggest action at the end of the book takes place.
While on Brown’s Island I saw this statue called The Headman dedicated to African American boatmen, much like house slave Mary’s husband in an Extraordinary Union.
I’d never done the Civil War tourism thing before and it is interesting to see how Richmond, the former capital of the confederacy, handles the Civil War tourism. While we definitely havethe confederate statue issue there were no confederate flags for sales in the gift shops or even surrounding the Jefferson Davis house. In fact, I saw a lot of information about slavery in the gift shop and they even sell shirts with Frederick Douglass quotes. Granted this may have something to do with the fact that their CEO is a black woman.
Anyway, Extraordinary Union is an extraordinary historical romance about fighting for your own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness when the whole world is against you.
It looks like in the next book, A Hope Divided, the hero is in a Civil War prison camps so…fun ):