Book cover of An Extraordinary Union and the text "a review of Alyssa Cole's an extraordinary union" on green background.

A Review of An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union is my favorite type of historical romance. It is steamy, the characters are dealing with life and death struggles, and they are in the midst of real history. Love it!


Richmond, Virginia, 1862, during the US Civil War

Main Characters

Ellen (Elle) Burns is a free Black woman with an eidetic memory. She was born into slavery and then trotted around the abolitionist circuit when freed, to show off her ability to remember almost everything she sees or hears. Fed up with feeling like a side-show act, she is putting her skills to use as a spy for the Union during the Civil War.

Malcom McCall is a compulsively charming Scot working as a Pinkerton detective, spying for the Union in the guise of a Confederate soldier. His family was run out of Scotland during the clearances, and he has no patience for a society that condones treating anyone the way his mother treated by the English.


This book has one of the most compelling “meet-cutes” of any book I have read. It isn’t flashy, and it isn’t even romantic, strictly speaking, but it tells you so much about each character and the difficulties they will face to be together, that it is impossible to stop reading.

Malcom is immediately smitten with Elle’s intelligence, wit, and smart mouth. But as a White man, he knows he holds all the power in American society, even if he chooses not to use it, so he has no idea how to convince Elle he is serious about her.

Elle fights her attraction to Malcom and his charm because she has no reason to trust the sincerity of the attentions of any man looking like him. But he is persistent, and the longer they work together, the further he works around her defenses.


They work to find information from a Confederate senator and his household, which they have both infiltrated via very different avenues. And soon stumble on critical information that could could turn the tide of the war against the Union if they can’t find out more details and get the information to the White House. But the further they dig, the more danger they find themselves in. This novel is full of action and adventure as well as a compelling romance.

Historical Worldbuilding

The historical worldbuilding in this novel is excellent. It puts you right in Civil War Virginia, with all of the complex societal implications and complications that come with that.


This is a forbidden love, interracial romance, with a Black heroine and a White hero. He falls first, and he fall hard. And because of the social circumstances, even he wonders if he is risking harm to Elle by pursuing her. This is also a bit of a damsel/dude in distress novel. Both the heroine and the hero are in distress at various points, and each does a significant amount of rescuing the other.

Secondary Characters

The secondary characters in this novel are realistic and well drawn. Cole does a subtle job of showing the complexities of slavery and the relationships within the system. In the end of the novel, we are introduced, via letter, to Malcom’s brother, who is the hero in the next novel in the series.

Point of View

This novel uses close third person point of view, alternating between the hero and heroine’s perspective.

In Summary

  • This book is one of the best historical romances I have read. Two thumbs up (and both big toes!). ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘
  • It is a historical romance set in Virginia (the Confederacy) in 1862, during the US Civil War.
  • The main characters are drawn with complex detail, and that makes them delightfully three dimensional and compelling.
  • The history is well done, with much of it drawn from real-life examples, and it leads to a very believable wartime adventure for the characters.
  • The tropes are forbidden love, interracial romance, and he falls first.
  • The heat level is about a three out of five and very much in character for the hero and heroine and key to the development of their relationship and trust.
  • There is some violence, as you might expect in a novel set during wartime, and some of the violence involves slavers trying to kidnap free Black people into slavery, which was a terrifying reality of the time.

More historical romances set in the Americas, please!

Please keep sharing historical romances you know of that are set in North or South America. Thanks to folks letting me know about new-to-me novels, I have a nice stack to review. And I am voracious and want more! The more we can share and spread the word about good books to read, the more we can encourage authors to write more of them.

When I wrote Devil in Our Hearts, many people were surprised that it was set in colonial New England, and not in England proper. But American history is ripe with juicy stories that need to be told! Colonial New York is the setting for my next romance, and, well, just think of the Daniel Day Lewis version of Last of the Mohicans. ๐Ÿงก

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