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.
Publisher and Release Date: Courtney Milan, October 2017
Time and Setting: USA, 1781-1820
Heat Level: Varies; 1.5-2
Genre: Historical romance anthology
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars (Each story is individually rated)
Review by Em
Alexander Hamilton is enjoying new popularity with the success of Hamilton: The Musical, currently playing on Broadway. But in this anthology from Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan and Alyssa Cole, he’s relegated to the background as he leads his forces to victory at Yorktown, the last major battle of the Revolutionary War.
The premise of the anthology is simple: The war is decades past; Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, is collecting soldiers’ stories about their experiences with her husband at Yorktown. The request triggers memories and events of a very different sort, and in this delightful and uniformly good trio of romance novellas featuring marginalized central characters, we reminisce on revolutionary stories of love during and after Hamilton’s war.
Promised Land by Rose Lerner
Corporal Ezra Jacobs has secrets. For starters he’s a she, and as Rachel Mendelson, she colluded with her mother-in-law to fake her own death. For the past three years she’s been fighting in Hamilton’s battalion for America’s independence. Suppressed and oppressed by her husband’s smothering love, his mother’s displeasure, and all the rules and expectations of her jewish faith, she’s finally living a life that makes her happy. Once the war is won, she has grand plans to reveal her true identity in a memoir and tour the country giving lectures on her experience as a female, jewish soldier in the war for independence.
Ezra/Rachel’s plans hit a roadblock when she spots a familiar figure walking through the army campground – her husband, Nathan. Knowing that he sympathized with the British during their marriage, she flags him down and has him arrested as a Loyalist spy.
Nathan is shocked, thrilled – confused – to discover that Rachel, the wife he mourned deeply after her sudden death is not dead after all. To Ezra’s relief, he doesn’t reveal the truth, but Nathan has secrets of his own. Their years apart have given him new insights into the man he was and discovering Rachel is alive gives him hope; his capture gives him one last chance to know and understand the stranger who was once his wife.
Promised Land is a beautiful, slow-paced (despite the short page-count) second-chance love story featuring a couple who were strangers to each other before and after they wed, but who somehow discover themselves and their marriage against the backdrop of Revolutionary war. Ms. Lerner brilliantly paces their slow courtship as Ezra finds reasons to visit and be near Nathan, and Nathan begins to understand what drove Rachel away, who she was and who she is now. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one other significant element – the references and experiences of jewish faith sprinkled throughout. Rachel and Nathan are jewish (as are her fellow NCOs); their faith plays a major part in the evolving dynamic of their relationship – but also in the hopes and dreams of the promised land they’re all fighting for.
As the war rages, they battle to find a way forward – and forge a new relationship based on honesty, affection and freedom with each other.
The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan
When John Hunter finds himself in a fight for his life with a British soldier, the last thing he expects is a conversation about the weather or his favorite books. When the bugle signals the end of the battle, John takes pity on the other man, shrugs off his uniform jacket and offers it to him as a disguise. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the soldier tells John he won’t forget the favor and that he’ll pay him back someday. John’s heard it before… and he has little faith he’ll ever see the man again.
On the run from the British army, Henry Latham knows little about the man who spared his life: his rank (from his uniform) and that he’s most likely part of the Rhode Island Regiment, but he sets out to find him anyway. After bluffing his way past guards by disguising himself as a cheesemonger who needs to deliver cheese to John (yes, Henry is a bit odd and he has a vivid, hopeful imagination), he eventually makes his way to the Black Regiment – and a very surprised John. John tries to make him uncomfortable so that he’ll leave, but Henry doesn’t falter. Instead, he asks John if there’s anything he can do for him; when John confesses he’s been invalided out and plans to walk to Rhode Island – and his home – a 500-600 mile journey – Henry offers to join him.
Once John gets over his shock that Henry is, in fact, waiting for him the following morning and planning to accompany him, the journey home – both literally and metaphorically – begins. Over the next weeks the men walk and Henry talks…and talks…and talks. I’m not going to tell you what Henry (and sometimes) John talk about. But let me assure you that this charming novella is chock full of delightful, poignant and funny conversations between a mostly surly (and amused) John and the chatty, sweet and lovable Henry. As the miles pass by the men develop an affectionate regard for each other. John challenges Henry and his beliefs and Henry shows John what it means to be valued – and necessary – to someone. Neither is troubled by their feelings for another man ,or their attraction to each other, but Ms. Milan takes her time developing their romantic relationship, and in this ultra slow burn love story, both John and Henry slowly but surely become necessary to each other.
Once in Rhode Island, Henry’s future is still murky – he’s hidden much of his life before the war in a series of flimsy, obvious lies – and despairs of what’s to come once he returns to his family. John doesn’t ask him to stay, and Henry knows he has to leave, but it’s awful anyway! Oh, Ms. Milan. You broke my heart. Fortunately, she concludes (and redeems) this marvelous novella with a series of moving letters between the men, and then a revealing epilogue.
In this second story, Ms. Milan reminds us she’s a master of the novella. Funny, moving, sweet, tender and profound, In Pursuit of… is perhaps my favorite Milan story EVER.
That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
After the tremendous first two novellas, I had high hopes for Ms. Cole’s story of two black women with very different life experiences who fall in love in post Revolutionary War New York. And though I enjoyed the story and its principal characters, the development of the romantic relationship felt forced and in this shorter format, underdeveloped. Insta-lust isn’t a favorite trope of mine – and here, two very different, marginalized women fall for each other based on little more than a glance across a hallway and then a Big Misunderstanding (why??!!) sets them apart. It’s a tantalizing and promising start, but the story doesn’t quite live up to it.
Mercy Alston lives at Hamilton Grange and works as a maid to Eliza Hamilton, transcribing the memories/anecdotes/stories she receives from those who knew and fought with Eliza’s late husband during the Revolutionary War. She was once passionate about her writing but she’s subsumed her vocation into the tedium of her day to day life. For Mercy, heartbreak and loss are the language of love., so when the beautiful and flirtations Andromeda Stiel shows up at Hamilton Grange, Mercy reminds herself that her quiet, solitary life is enough.
Andromeda, a dressmaker with her own shop in Harlem, is intrigued by the proud, poorly dressed woman Mrs. Hamilton employs as her maid and tries (and fails) to draw her out with witty stories and questions. But Mercy’s unwillingness to respond to her flirtations only makes Andromeda all the more determined. Before she leaves, she invites Mercy to visit her in Harlem – and Mercy’s visit ends up being so much more than planned. Andromeda’s spirit and confidence are infectious, though Mercy tries hard to resist her, and when they part, Andromeda writes to Mercy, sharing details of her day to day life, and eventually Mercy thaws (privately) and acknowledges the pleasure that accompanies each letter, and responds in kind.
I loved this slow unwinding of the wound oh-so tight Mercy and Andromeda’s stubborn refusal to accept – or to allow Mercy to accept – less than enough. Andromeda is relentless in her pursuit (sometimes too pushy); Mercy – who already feels a strong attraction – is helpless to resist her. Unfortunately, once Mercy and Andromeda finally act on their attraction, Ms. Cole divides them with a simple, but big, misunderstanding, which I heartily disliked and resented. Though the novella ends on a hopeful, happy note, I wish Ms. Cole had instead used more of the story to develop the growing affection between the couple.
Hamilton’s Battalion showcases some of my favorite historical novelists working at the top of their game. The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan is worth the cover price alone. Romantic, different and wholly entertaining, this anthology easily earns its place on my top ten books of the year