Monday, October 16, 2017

Jen's Review: Hamilton's Battalion

Hamilton's Battalion by Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, Rose Lerner
Publisher: Courtney Milan (October 17, 2017
Genre: Historical Romance -- M/M, F/F, and M/F

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.


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. 

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Jen's Review:

Just last week in a review of Duke of Desire, I complained about historicals. But, you know, I’m woman enough to admit that I’m wrong. I’m bored with the English lords and ladies of the ton, but I was electrified by the experience of reading the trio of romances in Hamilton’s Battallion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole. Each novella is both a beautiful romance and also a moving exploration of what it means to be American.

The first novella is Promised Land by Rose Lerner. Rachel has been disguising herself as Ezra Jacobs in order to fight in the Continental Army. Shortly before the battle at Yorktown, she spies a man who she knows must be a British spy, her husband Nathan. Rachel knew Nathan would never understand her need to fight for the Patriots; so she faked her own death three years earlier to join the army, leaving Nathan and his domineering and controlling mother behind. Imagine her dismay not only at being discovered, but also at having to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about their past, present, and future. This story’s external conflict happened years ago when the war separated them; this story is the internal reckoning as they face the emotions from their unexpected reunion. Rachel and Nathan are Jews, and he never understood why she wanted to be American. He thought she was leaving her Jewish identity behind to claim a new one. Meanwhile, it’s because she’s proud of her identity that she wants to fight for this new country, knowing that if Jews aren’t part of building it, they’ll never be fully accepted and welcomed.

This story literally moved me to tears. Rachel was dissatisfied with Judaism as the only guiding tenet of her life. As a woman, the rules of her faith felt confining and arbitrary. Yes, there are plenty of rules in the army, but the difference is that she chose them. After discussing the Torah with Nathan and a few others, she said, “I want us to fight to make this a place where justice and integrity and kindness are first in our hearts. I want us to create light after the darkness.” Rachel’s hopes are still part of today’s political calculus: can women be in charge of their own destiny? Can people of all faiths be welcomed as Americans? To have these aspirations be a part of our founding, and yet still be something we struggle with today strikes me as both beautiful and terrible.

The second story The Pursuit of... is by Courtney Milan. In this story, black soldier John Hunter meets a talkative white British officer with a death wish, Henry Latham. After John saves Henry’s life, he feels beholden to John and offers to keep him company on the road back to find John’s family in Rhode Island. Through the weeks of the journey, John’s original distrust of Henry develops into a guarded admiration, then friendship, and finally love. This story is more light-hearted because of Henry, a jovial chatterbox who seizes the opportunity to become a new man in America. On the other hand, John is a freedman who knows that his “belonging” in America will always be conditional. He challenges Henry’s regard for the “string of pretty words” in the Declaration of Independence, pointing out

“Thomas Jefferson owns people. He no more thinks that all men are created equal than the King of England does. It’s all just words...Tell me, when you were mulling over the equality of men...did you ever imagine a man like me?”

This conversation is important for the characters, but also for the reader. Henry is jolted into silence, feeling empathy for those he’d never had to think about before. Their interaction is raw and real, showing how powerful personal connections are in overcoming prejudice and privilege. John’s attraction to Henry continues to grow, but it’s only when John sees that Henry truly views him as an equal that they take the next step. They save each other and it’s beautiful and I cried some more. I found myself thinking about the Declaration of Independence, something I haven’t done in years. Should I really be surprised at how we struggle to live up to our ideals when they were never honest to begin with? Or is it okay that ideals are always a stretch, something out of reach we must constantly strive to achieve?

The final story, That Could Be Enough, is by Alyssa Cole and takes place many years after Yorktown. Mercy is a black woman and a servant in Eliza Hamilton’s household, helping Eliza transcribe interviews of those who knew her husband, Alexander. Here the framing device holding these stories together comes into cleaner focus---Mercy was present at interviews with Rachel & Jacob, and also John & Henry. One day, a beautiful black woman named Andromeda arrives for an interview. She’s the successful owner of a dress shop, and she is there to tell Eliza a story about Hamilton and her grandparents. Mercy is attracted to Andromeda, both body and soul, but has suffered too many broken hearts to risk another chance at love. The relationship between Eliza and Alexander works as a fascinating metaphor in the story. Mercy can’t understand how Eliza forgives his many betrayals, and Mercy must overcome the hurt feelings caused by those who betrayed her. Not until she understands her own past can she move forward and embrace a future with Andromeda. This final story is a quiet, but no less powerful, meditation on what it means to risk everything for love. Mercy emerges from a cocoon she’s built for herself and it takes real bravery and courage to risk her heart again.

But this is also the story that most explicitly addresses any reader who might question the historical accuracy of these marvelously inclusive stories. Andromeda tells Mercy

“Oh, you know there were all kinds of people in the battalion.” 

Obviously it’s a satisfying moment in the text because Andromeda gives Mercy permission to be herself. But more importantly, that single sentence decimates one of the most persistent and offensive ways writers of historical fiction justify whitewashing---that it’s too complicated or tricky to show the complex ways humans intersect with themselves, with each other, and with history. Hamilton’s Battalion should lay that cheap defense to rest. Here are inclusive, fully formed characters that aren’t relegated to background roles; they are heroic, essential members of our American story. Lerner, Milan, and Cole make something others claim is impossible look easy, and they do it in novellas.

Please read Hamilton’s Battalion, for no review can do it justice. This book isn’t a love letter to America, but it is instead a love letter to Americans. It reminds me, more profoundly than anything I’ve ever read, that it’s we the people that make America great and not the other way around. It’s a book for those of us who are still moved by and want to fight for the ideals in the Declaration of Independence. It is a reminder that our country was born in the hearts of those who struggled for liberty almost 250 years ago. It is our obligation as Americans to continue to fight not only for ourselves, but on behalf of all those who still yearn for freedom. Resist.


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Jen received an e-ARC of this book from the authors.

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Thanks for the review, Jen! Well damn girl, your review just sent shivers down my spine. LOOK AT ALL THE TRUTH BEING SPILLED ABOVE. I cannot wait to start read this one myself!

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on October 26th for a chance to WIN an ecopy of your own!

Have you read Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner, or Alyssa Cole?


Until Next Time,

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