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Book Review: An Extraordinary Union

Blessed—or cursed, depending on how you look at it—with an eidetic memory, Elle Burns is one of the union’s most secret weapons. A spy embedded in a southern senator's household as a slave. Keeping her head down, she’s able to pass on secret messages to Washington to help aid the union in the Civil War. But all of this changes when she meets one Malcolm McCall. A Pinkerton detective, Malcolm is on a mission. Already a veteran of several successful espionage missions he’s heard word something big is going down and he’s on the hunt for what. Unfortunately he never expected his contact in Richmond to be the utterly bewitching Elle. As a white man posing as a Confederate soldier, It would be dangerous for him to act upon his attraction. But he somehow can’t seem to stop himself. Can the two manage to track down the mystery in Richmond while keeping their emotions in check? Or will they end up falling in love?

What a fun historical romance! There’s all of the action and adventure of some of the best romantic suspense in this with all of the heartbreaking and aww-inducing moments of a great romance. The story centers around two spies for the union, one black and one white. One female and one male. And how working together with their series of contacts they’re able to uncover a fairly major threat to the union. I don’t want to give that threat away, but if you’re a fan of history, it’s pretty easy to figure out where the plot is going and it’s quite fun to go there. When I figured out my jaw dropped and I went “oooooohhhhh” and rubbed my hands in glee.

I really liked Elle as a main character. I liked that she had her roots in a real life spy who was also an enslaved women with a eidetic memory. Seeing her taking the reins and using the Southerners and white people’s preconceptions against them was cool. I was here for it. I liked her relationships with the other enslaved people in the household as well as that with Malcolm. I liked that the story never forgot the huge gulf in opportunity and respect that stood between them. I found Malcolm a fun hero. He was alpha without being annoying. He knew his strengths and he played into them. His backstory mirrored Elle’s in an odd way—he’s Scottish and one of the refugees from the Highland Clearances. It wasn’t fully the same—it can’t be—but it gave the characters a place to communicate and understand each other from. I liked that his skills weren’t in his arm but in his voice. That he used his words to get what he wanted. He was charismatic and a skilled liar which served him well until all of a sudden it really really didn’t. He was a good foil for Elle and together they made a good team.

I also liked how Southerners were portrayed that they weren’t just melodramatic villains twirling their mustaches. They were complex characters with wants and layers, and even though they were truly on the side of inhumanity they weren’t themselves portrayed as a monolith. There were Southerners who fit the stereotypes and others who really did not. I also liked that one of the most horrific characters in the novel was a white woman aka the stereotypical southern belle. She was Scarlett O’Hara as she really would have been if she hadn’t been the designated heroine of Gone with the Wind—Spoiled, horrible, deceitful.

You know, like the actual Scarlett… but not glamorized.

Frankly this book needs to be turned into a movie or Netflix needs to be developing this into a new series. I would watch the heck out of it.

Trigger warnings because this books does need them include: Racism, racist language, discussion of rape, attempted rape, slavery and all of its trauma, so yeah. Make sure you are in a good place before reading this.

But if you’re looking for something to read this Juneteenth, consider this book by a Black author that actually has great historical basis (and cites its sources—I stan a romance that cites its sources) about the Civil War and the fight for African American Emancipation, then you’ll want to read this.

Five Stars

If this is your jam, you can get it here.

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