Staff Pick & Review by Michelle F.
You know that moment when you hear about a book well in advance of its publication and you can’t stop thinking about it? That was me with An Extraordinary Union. From the time it was first presented in our internal meetings, I knew I had to read this book—and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Civil War is a tough time period to read, for obvious reasons, but Alyssa Cole handles everything with brilliance. While she doesn’t sugar-coat the injustice of the time, it’s also never garishly splashed across the page. History blends seamlessly with romance, with intrigue, with deception and mystery. It has everything I wanted. Agents undercover who, because of the nature of their roles in 1861, can’t be seen together in public. A Scottish Pinkerton agent and a freedwoman undercover as a slave, both gathering intel for the Union, trying desperately to turn the tide of war. All while falling in love in what seems like impossible circumstances. It’s romance mixed with suspense mixed with historical fiction: An Extraordinary Union blurs genres and completely exceeded my expectations.
Fans of historical romance should read this book. Fans of historical fiction should read this book. Fans of mystery, suspense, and spy novels should read this book. Honestly, everyone should pick up this book and read it for themselves to see why I fell in love with Alyssa Cole’s exceptional writing, and with Elle and Malcolm’s incredible journey. Enjoy!
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 . . .
“Opening a series set in the Civil War era, Cole (Mixed Signals) hits all the right notes in this smartly written espionage romance brimming with vivid characterization, heartfelt dialogue, and sensual sweetness. Ellen “Elle” Burns, a sassy freedwoman, and Malcolm McCall, a charming immigrant from Scotland, are both spies committed to using their skills to defeat the Confederacy. Their collaboration is complicated by the sizzling chemistry between them. Elle has given up her freedom to pose as a mute slave in an influential Confederate household, as her photographic memory lets her retain confidential information after just a glance. In the same household, Malcolm claims to be a Confederate soldier, hoping to endear himself to Confederate officials. Their closeness leads to genuine mutual understanding of their private selves and a satisfying intimate relationship. But Elle knows the perils of an interracial romance, and she struggles to trust a man who lies so glibly. Despite their ability to work seamlessly together and their growing belief in a shared future, a risky plan to secure vital information goes awry, threatening the success of the mission—and their lives. Cole’s sparkling gem of a romance portrays love at its most practical and sublime; she writes with lyricism, intelligence, and historical accuracy. This fascinating novel is a most welcome addition to the historical romance genre.” –Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW
“With her eidetic memory and quick wit, Elle Burns, a Northern freedwoman and part of the Loyal League, is the perfect spy for the Union Army. Now a mute “slave” in the home of an influential Southern senator, Elle is shocked when her latest contact turns out to be the handsome Confederate soldier pretending to pay court to the senator’s spoiled daughter. But Malcolm McCall is no Johnny Reb; he’s a Scot by birth and a Pinkerton detective on a mission for the Union. When he and Elle learn of plans to break the Union blockade, they join forces in a perilous race against time to see the plot foiled. Based in part on historical characters and events, this carefully composed tale envisages aspects of the Civil War often overlooked. ¬VERDICT Courageous, passionate protagonists fight for justice, freedom, and the right to love in an exceptional story that both educates and entertains and beautifully launches a unique series. Cole (Mixed Signals) lives in the Caribbean.”
—Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
“A spy posing as a slave in Civil War Virginia risks her own life and the outcome of the war by falling in love with a fellow spy of another race. After being freed from slavery as a child, Ellen "Elle" Burns has one purpose. She is "going to help destroy the Confederacy." But to do that, she has to do something she never imagined possible—pose as an enslaved woman on loan to a family of spoiled whites. Her "masters" are living the high life in spite of a punishing Union blockade that's causing widespread suffering and starvation in Richmond, Virginia. Elle's photographic memory makes her extremely valuable to the Loyal League, a network of black spies working to undermine the Confederacy. But her careful work is thrown into disarray by the arrival of Malcolm McCall, a detective in the Pinkerton network who is posing as a Confederate soldier paying social visits to the household where Elle works. Malcolm is a skilled spy and a good person, but Elle has a hard time bringing herself to trust a glib and charming white man whose job requires him to be a gifted liar. Little by little Malcolm wins her over, but the painful racial dynamics around them threaten to poison their relationship. Malcolm must treat Elle as less than human in front of others while convincing her in private that he values her as highly as any white woman. The first installment in Cole's (Mixed Signals, 2015, etc.) Loyal League series defies genre stereotypes at every turn. It's both a romance and a spy novel, with a healthy dose of adventure thrown in, and it offers a nuanced portrayal of Civil War-era racial politics. Any reader who thinks romance novels are pure fluff will be schooled by Cole's richly drawn characters, who must overcome generations of trauma in order to let themselves love each other. A masterful tale that bodes well for future work from Cole. “— Kirkus STARRED REVIEW
“In the first installment in what should be a spectacular new series, Cole opens her adventurous historical romance at the beginning of the American Civil War. Elle Burns is not what she seems, which suits her just fine since she needs to conceal her true identity by staying out of sight and out of mind. Luckily for her, no one suspects that a mute slave girl on a Southern estate is really a spy working for the Loyalty League, a secret society of freed blacks and slaves funneling information to the Union. Her disguise was working perfectly until a handsome Confederate soldier with a Scottish brogue nearly ruins everything.
Malcolm McCall looks like a “Rebel Hero,” but he’s really a roguish Pinkerton detective who uses charm to disarm senators and Southern belles alike. As spy encounters spy, the two must decide if they can trust each other and if working together is in their best interests, or if their desire to win the war is greater than their growing desire for one another. Fans of Beverly Jenkins will be thrilled with Cole’s fearless, steamy, and moving multicultural take on forbidden love in a time of slavery and war.” —Booklist¬ STARRED REVIEW
“An extraordinary romance is found within the pages of Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union.”
--Bookpage TOP PICK
“Cole spins a tale that will pull you in from the very first page.”
--RT Book Reviews: FIVE STAR GOLD Top Pick
“With its richly detailed setting, heart-stopping plot, and unforgettable characters, An Extraordinary Union is everything you can ask from historical fiction. Alyssa Cole has taken an unforgettable hero, a uniquely resourceful heroine, and mixed them together for some truly combustible chemistry. Brava!”
—Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author
“Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union is as extraordinary as the title suggests—riveting, romantic, and utterly remarkable.”
—Courtney Milan, New York Times bestselling author
“Alyssa Cole is just a wonderful storyteller, and she’s fast become one of my auto-buy authors. An Extraordinary Union is the perfect blend of history, adventure, and heart-stopping romance, with a courageous heroine you’ll love and a hero you’ll fall in love with. I read it in a single sitting, and my heart wants to go on living with these characters.”
—Susanna Kearsley, New York Times bestselling author
“A compelling and engrossing historical civil war romance…that leaves you spellbound.” – Huffington Post
“Cole’s lively novel—besides being an enjoyable romance full of adventure and extremely good lust—is therefore part of a long-overdue pushback against the way historical fiction portrays this seminal moment in American history.” - Jezebel
“Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union is the first in what promises to be a riveting series.”
--Heroes and Heartbreakers
Praise for the novels of Alyssa Cole:
“Rich in atmospheric details and rife with unexpected dangers.”—RT Book Reviews
“Sweet, sensual, and suspenseful . . . rousing and entertaining.”—Publishers Weekly
“With its richly detailed setting, heart-stopping plot, and unforgettable characters, An Extraordinary Union is everything you can ask from historical fiction. Alyssa Cole has taken an unforgettable hero, a uniquely resourceful heroine, and mixed them together for some truly combustible chemistry. Brava!”—Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author