I love historical romance, and after reading A Princess in Theory, I would say I’m an Alyssa Cole fan. I was really excited to jump into her Civil War series, The Loyal League. Book 1 in the series, An Extraordinary Union, did not disappoint.

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The summary, from Amazon:

A former slave finds danger, intrigue, and passion undercover as a spy in first of this Civil War–era romance series from an award-winning author.

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. . .

An Entertainment Weekly TOP 10 ROMANCE BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Bookpage TOP PICK
Kirkus BEST BOOKS OF 2017
Vulture TOP 10 ROMANCE BOOKS OF 2017
Publishers Weekly BEST BOOKS OF 2017
A Booklist TOP 10 ROMANCE FICTION 2017

“Richly detailed setting, heart-stopping plot, and unforgettable characters.” —Deanna Raybourn, New York Times–bestselling author

“You should absolutely read this book, immediately, if you haven’t already. . . . This book is a marvelous, intelligent, respectful, breathtaking treat for your brain.” —Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

A to Z Reading Challenge

I chose this book for my 2021 AtoZ Challenge, created by Bookstacks n Golden Moms. This qualified for “E” as well as the January mini-challenge of “a book you purchased in 2020 but didn’t read.”

Buy An Extraordinary Union here.

An Extraordinary Union is one of those romances that I anticipate will stick with me for years to come. Elle is a fabulous heroine. I love that she has perfect recall, an excellent trait for a spy, though others have made her feel like a sideshow entertainer at times in her life. Her romance with Malcolm is immediate and super steamy. I really loved that Malcolm, as a white man, is aware of the power dynamics in his relationship with Elle and begins to work actively to be a better ally. Though the Civil War was a very different time from the modern day, racism is still a huge issue in America, and some of the discussions these two have are still important in relationships today.

The plot is so engaging, with Elle and Malcolm working together to uncover the Confederacy’s plans. The two are spies with different Union organizations, but meet to exchange information and decide to work together. The attraction between them never gets in the way of their work, until they find themselves in a dicey situation.

This book made me swoon, giggle (so many fun literary references), and cry. I wanted Elle and Malcolm to end up together, to uncover the plot and get the news to the Union, and for them to get out of the South, where Elle had to pose as a slave to find information, and Malcolm had to pose as a Rebel soldier. Additionally, Elle is disguising herself as mute, so when she is undercover, she’s totally stripped of her independence and her strong voice. This makes for some very tense and emotional scenes. Also of note, Elle reflects on the relationships between slaves and their owners. Of course, there are so many true villains in this one, but Elle reflects on situations where relationships are more nuanced. I still view the slave owners as committing a reprehensible act, but it was interesting to see so many emotions and beliefs unpacked.

And the love scenes! They are steamy, empowering, and totally swoon-worthy. While our hero and heroine find their HEA, it’s no secret that they will have a difficult road ahead, and my never be able to have their marriage legally recognized.

I love that the epilogue opened up for the rest of the series. If you’re looking for a historical romance series featuring diverse characters and interracial relationships, I highly recommend this one! Alyssa Cole tells some amazing stories, no matter which genre she writes. This was a 5 star read for me.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League, #1)An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An exceptional historical romance that absolutely blew me away. I need to sleep on this one before fully penning my thoughts on my blog. Overall, Elle is a wonderful character, and her romance with Malcolm is stunning and nuanced. I loved these two together, from their steamy scenes to their honest discussions regarding their emotions and the power dynamics between them.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Elle is part of The Loyal League, an intelligence unit of Black Americans working to uncover information for the Union. Do you know of any Black spies for the Union during the Civil War era outside of Harriet Tubman?
  2. Susie is a traditional Southern belle, but we see so much more to her than the stereotype most may be used to. How is she similar to and different than other representations of the Southern belle you are used to? Do you think the is a more accurate representation?
  3. While Elle and Malcolm have a consensual relationship, there are many power dynamics between them that Elle carefully considers before entering their relationship, as well as feeling of guilt she grapples with. Discuss these dynamics and emotions further.
  4. While many historical romances are based on a sort of fantasy, this series was highly researched. Did this book match the representation of history you had previously learned about in school or in further research?

Interested? Buy An Extraordinary Union.
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