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 . . .
"Man's inhumanity to man wasn't solely regulated to skin color, although it did allow its practitioners to choose their targets more easily." ~ Elle, p.44
An Extraordinary Union was added to my wish list when I saw the Twitterverse raving about it. When I attended the Kensington panel at RT17 back in May, my fellow Bibliojunkies watched me race my way up to the table to snag myself a copy of it. I was ecstatic!
A freed slave turned spy for the Union is an intriguing concept and one that I wanted to learn about. My knowledge of the Civil War is quite limited and as part of my self-education on it I want to be sure to learn about the stories that don't get as much attention. This is one of them. Elle herself is an impressive woman: she's always been able to memorize and recall information, an ability that's vital in the war effort to fight the Rebels. Too often though her skills are underestimated simply because she is a woman, and of colour. Yet, this is also an advantage to any spy, especially that of the Loyal League. Since she is given little regard by her employers, she can fly under the radar gathering information from conversations she overhears and things she sees. It's amazing the things people divulge when they're ignoring you because they feel you're beneath them. Malcolm's appearance makes things harder. He's also a spy for the Loyal League and they have to work together. Malcolm has always found slavery to be a contemptible practice but he knows that not everyone shares his progressive attitude. As part of his cover, he plays nice and woos and flirts with the society women and banters effortlessly with the gentlemen of the South, all the while using his charm to gain their confidence and wean information from them. Two spies with special gifts in a dangerous situation, made even more risky by their growing attraction to each other. In all of this they must not lose sight of their mission.
There's a tinge of suspense that penetrates the entire story due to the tension and danger that come across strongly. The risk of being caught or double-crossed is always a probability especially in those secretive moments. I know this will sound a bit strange but I found the romance to be a bit distracting at a couple of times. I did like the verbal sparring that went on between Elle and Malcolm - they're both equally up to the challenge - and I loved that he delighted in her outspokenness. I think I was just so focused on the spying and infiltrating of the enemy's lair.
"..., but it galled him that Elle's effectiveness was partially rooted in society inherently seeing her as inferior." ~ Malcolm, p.55
An Extraordinary Union is moving, suspenseful and romantic. Not only did I learn something from it, I came away with a profound new respect for those who simply wanted to live free of fear and subjugation, and those who risked their lives to make that happen.