by Alyssa Cole
Series: The Loyal League #2
Also in this series: An Extraordinary Union
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: November 28, 2017
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The Civil War has turned neighbor against neighbor--but for one scientist spy and her philosopher soldier, war could bind them together . . .
For three years of the War Between the States, Marlie Lynch has helped the cause in peace: with coded letters about anti-Rebel uprisings in her Carolina woods, tisanes and poultices for Union prisoners, and silent aid to fleeing slave and Freeman alike. Her formerly enslaved mother's traditions and the name of a white father she never knew have protected her--until the vicious Confederate Home Guard claims Marlie's home for their new base of operations in the guerilla war against Southern resistors of the Rebel cause.
Unbeknowst to those under her roof, escaped prisoner Ewan McCall is sheltering in her laboratory. Seemingly a quiet philosopher, Ewan has his own history with the cruel captain of the Home Guard, and a thoughtful but unbending strength Marlie finds irresistible.
When the revelation of a stunning family secret places Marlie's freedom on the line, she and Ewan have to run for their lives into the hostile Carolina night. Following the path of the Underground Railroad, they find themselves caught up in a vicious battle that could dash their hopes of love--and freedom--before they ever cross state lines.
I thought I was prepared, as I picked this up immediately after finishing An Extraordinary Union, but this was an even more intense read. I think it would be unfair to the historical record for any book involving the Civil War to not be uncomfortable reading at times. But, oh my goodness, I loved this book. And, let me get this out of my system, that COVER! Absolutely gorgeous! While this is the second in a series, you don’t need to have read the first book to read this one – though, seriously, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out!
It’s hard not to compare this to the previous book. Marlie is a very different heroine than Elle. For one, she’s led a very sheltered life as the illegitimate daughter of a well-respected white family. Most of her life revolves around her mixing medicines in her set of rooms in the attic. While very different from Elle, Marlie shows her strength in her own ways, in her insistence on being self-sufficient. But while I loved her, it was Ewan who was the true heart of the book for me.
Oh, Ewan! From the very first, I realized that Ewan was on the autism spectrum.
“I have always been the odd boy, the strange young man. I asked too many questions, or turned the conversation to things that pleased me and bored everyone else. Easily frustrated and eternally restless.”
I’ve read a few romances with neurodivergent heroes, and Ewan is one of the best in terms of speaking to my experiences with people with autism – his reliance on a Greek philosophy book for his set of moral rules, his difficulties with emotions, his frustration at interacting with other people. Sometimes, when authors write characters who are “different,” you end up feeling like they’re overemphasizing the disability over the person. In this case, Ms. Cole did a wonderful job of presenting Ewan as he is, as a human being and not just a disability. Ewan’s confusion at his developing relationship with Marlie, and his attempt to apply logic to their relationship, brought me to tears several times.
In terms of themes, this book went further than the first in exploring social issues around the Civil War. While I felt the interracial relationship was the core of the first book, in this one, it’s more of the justifications behind the war and the reaction to it from blacks and whites, both for and against the war. It’s about learning to rely on others, about respecting family history – and family secrets. That’s not to say the book is all heavy stuff – there’s quite a bit of laugh out loud humor. What it does mean is that this is a book that’ll stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
“[C]lose your eyes and listen to your heart, which may lead you astray but will always guide you to the path you were meant to take.”
This is easily one of my top-5 books of 2017. Highly recommended!