A review by unsuccessfulbookclub
An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole

adventurous challenging emotional hopeful mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


My Hissy RoNo era continues, this time with one set in America during the Civil War. This is not usually a historical setting I seek out, for many reasons, not the least of which being the potential for the “Lost Cause” narrative and attempts by white authors to romanticize human trafficking and chattel slavery (looking at you, Margaret Mitchell). In short: the potential for extremely problematic storylines is HIGH. 

IF I was going to read a Civil War romance, it was absolutely going to be one written by a Black woman and one written within the past decade. Enter Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union.

Allllll that said: I loved this! Both MCs are Union spies based on actual people. Elle’s character is based on Mary Bowser, a Union spy and free Black woman who posed as an enslaved person in Jefferson Davis’s house for years - shuttling untold secrets to the Union while evading detection. Malcolm is based on Timothy Webster, a top Pinkerton detective. If you read this, read the author’s note! Alyssa provided great details on the inspiration for her characters and how she came to write this story.

Malcolm is a white man and Elle is a Black woman and so much of the conflict in their relationship is driven by Elle reconciling her feelings for Malcolm the person with her fear and distrust of white men. Additionally, Malcolm wrestles with the power imbalance and works hard to help Elle feel safe with him. The nuances of the relationship and the depth of feelings between the two of them move quickly but sparkle on page.

Beyond their relationship…well, there’s a war and they are spies. So there is A LOT of plot in this along with some excellent portrayals of the Southern Belle archetype and the Southern “gent.” This book is an example of why books can outstrip movies specifically when you need to be in a character’s head. Thoughts and internal monologue bring depth to each interaction that would be impossible on screen.

👍🏻Recommended! If you are looking for an exciting Hissy RoNo set in America with a diverse cast, this is for you.

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