A Trio of Romances
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Love in the time of Hamilton…
On October 14, 1781, Alexander Hamilton led a daring assault on Yorktown's defenses and won a decisive victory in America's fight for independence. Decades later, when Eliza Hamilton collected his soldiers' stories, she discovered that while the war was won at Yorktown, the battle for love took place on many fronts...
PROMISED LAND by Rose Lerner
Donning men's clothing, Rachel left her life behind to fight the British as Corporal Ezra Jacobs--but life catches up with a vengeance when she arrests an old love as a Loyalist spy.
At first she thinks Nathan Mendelson hasn't changed one bit: he's annoying, he talks too much, he sticks his handsome nose where it doesn't belong, and he's self-righteously indignant just because Rachel might have faked her own death a little. She'll be lucky if he doesn't spill her secret to the entire Continental Army.
Then Nathan shares a secret of his own, one that changes everything...
THE PURSUIT OF... by Courtney Milan
What do a Black American soldier, invalided out at Yorktown, and a British officer who deserted his post have in common? Quite a bit, actually.
* They attempted to kill each other the first time they met.
* They're liable to try again at some point in the five-hundred mile journey that they're inexplicably sharing.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are.... Oh, no.
THAT COULD BE ENOUGH by Alyssa Cole
Mercy Alston knows the best thing to do with pesky feelings like "love" and "hope": avoid them at all cost. Serving as a maid to Eliza Hamilton, and an assistant in the woman's stubborn desire to preserve her late husband's legacy, has driven that point home for Mercy—as have her own previous heartbreaks.
When Andromeda Stiel shows up at Hamilton Grange for an interview in her grandfather's stead, Mercy's resolution to live a quiet, pain-free life is tested by the beautiful, flirtatious, and entirely overwhelming dressmaker.
Andromeda has staid Mercy reconsidering her worldview, but neither is prepared for love—or for what happens when it's not enough.
Beautiful and Lyrical
(I previously reviewed only the Alyssa Cole story in this collection. This review incorporates that in a review of the whole collection.)
The musical Hamilton has quite deservedly stirred up a lot of interest in the Revolutionary War era and, from a separate angle, in history as experienced through lives that don’t fit the straight white male Christian default. The collection Hamilton’s Battalion operates at the intersection of those two topics, being a collection of three historic romance novellas focusing on respectively a Jewish couple with the woman joining the army passing as a man (“Promised Land” by Rose Lerner), a same-sex male couple, one of whom is black (“The Pursuit of...” by Courtney Milan), and a same-sex female couple, both of whom are black (“That Could Be Enough” by Alyssa Cole). An additional unifying theme is a direct personal connection to Alexander Hamilton via the framing device of Mrs. Hamilton’s quest to collect stories and anecdotes about her husband after his death.
I read this primarily for the third story, and read that one first, looping back to take in the others when it was pointed out to me that Mercy Alston appears in the framing stories throughout. Rose Lerner’s “Promised Land” is about a Jewish couple who end up on opposite sides of the revolution (or do they?) and learn new things about each other and about the meaning of freedom and legacy. Courtney Milan’s “The Pursuit Of...” again begins with an “enemies to lovers” scenario, this time between a white British officer who has fallen for American ideals (and one American in particular) and a black American who takes a more cynical view of the whole liberty and freedom thing.
I wouldn’t normally have read these two stories simply because time is limited and I have a really long TBR list with material nearer and dearer to my heart, but that said, I really loved both of them. (Though not as much as I loved Cole’s contribution, which I discuss in more detail below. See: “nearer and dearer”.) They both tackled issues of identity and inequity in history in ways that didn’t flinch from truth while still giving the reader an enjoyable and realistic relationship. I especially love Lerner’s intimate immersion in the historical Jewish experience that explores questions of integration and co-existence while maintaining identity.
If I had all the time in the world to read, I’d be seeking out more from all of these authors. And if you aren’t constrained by the same desires I have (to focus my reading on queer women) and you enjoy top-of-the-line historical romance, I encourage you to read my share.
In “That Could Be Enough,” Mercy Alston works as a maid for Mrs. Hamilton as well as a part-time secretary, taking and transcribing dictation of the interviews that are being collected. Her past includes a childhood in an orphanage and a series of romances with women that were shipwrecked on the rocks of the absence of social models for their permanence. She’s buried her romantic dreams along with her earlier ambitions as a writer. Andromeda Stiel appears in her life bringing her grandfather’s story to add to Mrs. Hamilton’s collection, as well as bringing a free and open sensuality and a definite interest in breaking through Mercy’s cynical pessimism and capturing her heart.
This was an absolutely lovely story that wove a strong historical knowledge of the lives of singlewomen and the Revolutionary-era African American experience in New York City with a believable and positive romantic arc that felt true to its times in almost every aspect. (And I’m not going to quibble over the few things that felt a bit modern-minded to me, because there was quite a variety of experience of women’s same-sex relationships in that era.) The personalities and past experiences of the two women created enough conflict and tension to give the romance time to develop and the requisite speedbump late in the story was neither artificial nor avoidable. It’s too easy to say, “This could have been avoided if people had just talked things out” when you’re dealing with a modern world that has expected paradigms for same-sex relationships. I felt that Mercy’s reaction to the “speedbump” was perfectly in character given the times and her own history. [See also note below.]
Cole’s writing is beautiful and lyrical and I could wish that she’d turn her hand to writing romances between women again...and soon.
Note: Having seen some other reviewers' reactions to the "they should have just talked things out when the problem came up" I'd like to toss in a plea from a different life experience, and one that isn't necessarily specific to the precarious position of women who loved women in pre-modern settings.
It's all very easy to say, "If the person you've fallen in love with has done something that gives the appearance of treating your relationship as being of no lasting value, as being a passing fancy to be discarded and left behind, obviously what you should do is to challenge them about it and risk having your worst fears and self-doubts confirmed from her own mouth (as your last lover did), rather than keeping your mouth shut, burying your hurt, and pretending you aren't wounded." Very easy, right? Wrong.
It may be easy for certain personality types, but if I'd been in Mercy's situation? I'd have kept my mouth shut, buried my hurt, pretended I didn't care, and added it to my past experiences as a confirmation of how the world works and that I'm not worthy of love and loyalty. And everyone who says, "This is an idiot plot. This isn't believable." is saying that I am not a believable character. There really are people who react like this in real life, and we deserve to see ourselves reflected in fiction and promised our happy endings despite our paralyzing anxiety over emotional confrontations.
Lots of Love for Hamilton’s Battalion
I bought this book because I’ve been on an Alyssa Cole binge, but I’m glad I gave the other stories and authors a chance. The stories are complex and inclusive; they’re funny and emotionally layered; and, overall, they’re hopeful.