An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole [Review]

AEUI’m actively looking to diversify my reading, especially in genres where minority voices are not always heard, and diverse characters are not always seen. I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of this title and wasn’t disappointed. Sometimes nothing is better than curling up for the afternoon with a book you know you’re going to race through and enjoy in a single afternoon. This book was exactly what I was looking for.

An Extraordinary Union follows Elle Burns, a woman born into slavery. Living free in the North, she chooses to use her eidetic memory to help the Union by posing as a mute slave in Charleston.   There, she meets Malcolm McCall, a Pinkerton detective who’s also in the South under false pretenses. Danger, intrigue, and romance ensue.

I haven’t read a lot of straight-up romance. (I’m not counting romance-heavy YA or historical fiction here.) I’ve read and enjoyed Sarah McLean and Courtney Milan, but that’s about as far as I’ve made it, though every once and a while I get a hankering for a romance and will pick something up. What was immediately noticeable to me with An Extraordinary Union was that the stakes were so much higher than I was used to. Usually in a regency romance, someone’s honour or virtue is at stake, and the biggest obstacle is how society views the couple. In this case, the situations Elle and Malcolm found themselves in were literally life and death, and it added an element to the story that I really appreciated.

One of the challenges with a story like this is the ending. I recently saw some internet angst around the question of whether or not a romance novel needs a happy ending. Romance readers will shout at you (usually politely), “YES, OF COURSE.” In this book we have a mixed race couple working as spies across enemy lines during one of the deadliest wars in American history. I don’t really want to talk about the ending too much, my brain found it hard to reconcile all of the moving pieces here. I do think Cole handled it very well, but it was a little bit jarring to me as a reader.

The best news is that this is the first book in a series, and that we’ll get more of The Loyal League. I will absolutely be looking to read the next installment, and in meantime, will continue my search for diverse romance reads. If you have recommendations, please let them in the comments!