by Alyssa Cole
Series: The Loyal League #1
Also in this series: A Hope Divided
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
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 . . .
This was much more suspenseful than I was expecting! Even though I knew this was a romance, and would therefore have a happily-ever-after ending, it was hard at times to see how they were going to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of their relationship.
I liked Elle quite a bit, but found Malcolm a bit more opaque. I could definitely understand why Elle didn’t trust him at first, and I really respected her for how careful she was about getting involved with him. Elle has been used all her life because of her talent – by her parents, by her almost-husband Daniel, by the Loyal League – and finding someone who seems to value her for herself is heady, but she’s wise enough to realize that Malcolm’s charm isn’t enough to overcome the obstacles to their relationship. As for Malcolm, he falls for her strength and intelligence, and is confused when his charm doesn’t work on her like he expects. Malcolm’s slow realization of the awfulness that Elle faces every day of her life, and what they’ll both experience if they choose to pursue a relationship, is painfully real.
This is not exactly a light read. Elle is posing as a mute slave in a Rebel household, and the treatment of her, and the other actual slaves, is heartrendingly awful. Nor does Ms. Cole, or her characters, shy away from the difficulties involved in an inter-racial relationship during the Civil War area. Despite it all, Elle’s dedication to freedom shines through.
“We don’t want revenge, Malcolm.” She looked at him like he was the densest bastard to ever walk the earth. “We want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just like any damned fool in these United States is entitled to so long as he isn’t Black or Red. So you can keep your outrage. All I can do is try to make a difference.”
With all that said, this is a wonderful, amazing read. Ms. Cole shows a deft ability to balance the horrors of the Civil War with humor and delightfully real characters. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series!