Not Throwing Away My Shot: A Review of "Hamilton's Battalion" by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole
I love history. Now, that has not always been the case, but for the last half of my life, I have been History’s Bitch. I listen to history based podcasts like Nerds on History (please come back soon) and The History Chicks and look forward to documentaries on The History Channel. I find all of these things to be the epitome of fun, which would definitely come as a complete surprise to most of my history teachers from back in the day. What is the one thing that has taught me more about history than anything else? Romance novels.
Yes, you read that right. Romance novels are a rich source of history. It is because of The Pink Carnation novels by Lauren Willig that I understood the subtle dig at George III about “going mad” in “You’ll Be Back,” something that my mother, who also loves history, did not get when she heard the song. These authors seriously do their homework when sitting down to write. If you follow them on social media (as I do), you’d learn that they read through actual primary sources to find out how people behaved, what they ate, and what society was like during the time periods their characters populate. Historical accuracy is the name of the game and the women who write historical romances do it right. Knowing the work of two of these authors, when I sat down to read Hamilton’s Battalion, I knew I was in for a treat.
From the Publisher:
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 Stiel 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 Broadnax 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 world view, but neither is prepared for love — or for what happens when it’s not enough.
The Promised Land by Rose Lerner
Ms. Lerner was the only one of the three authors that I had never heard of before picking up this anthology, so I wasn't sure what I was getting into with this particular novella, especially considering the cross-dressing aspect of it. I know this is something of a mainstay of the romance genre, but I haven’t actually encountered it before, so I didn’t know what to make of the fact that the main character was successfully pretending to be a man. It takes a lot to get me to try something as cliched as the cross-dressing trope. To my surprise, I enjoyed this immensely.
The relationship between Rachel and Nathan was a lot of fun (even without Rachel pretending to be a man). I loved watching them try to figure each other out after not seeing each other for five years. These were people who knew each other completely, or at least they thought they did, and now they’re having to reevaluate what they knew. Ms. Lerner did an outstanding job of making you understand their confusion over their current situation and what brought them there.
What I liked the most about this installment was learning Rachel’s reasons for wanting to fight in the Revolution. In school, we’re taught one thing — the British government was tyrannous and the American colonists wanted their freedom. No one ever talks about why individual people wanted to fight. Sure, some of them did it because of the collective anger over The Stamp Act, but not everyone did. I found particular significance in Rachel’s reasons as a Jewish woman fighting to start a brand new country. Not growing up Jewish and learning the standard, white Christian history, I was unaware of the fact that Jewish people were not in fact citizens of any country in the world until the United States gave citizenship to them. I knew that anti-semitism was rampant for much of history (and sadly is seeing a resurgance thanks to a certain orange asshole currently taking up residence in the White House), but it had never occured to me that members of the Jewish faith could not become citizens unless they converted to The Church of England. It makes me wonder how many people decided to join the Continental Army in the hopes of finally having a country that would accept them.
The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan
When I finished reading The Pursuit of…, I tweeted out that I need to come up with a new rating system because this novella deserves a higher rating than 5 stars out of 5. I spent an entire night reading this and would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved the fact that a novella successfully depicted a slow burn romance between two characters who had not met prior to the start of the story. I have mad respect (do people still say this?) for Ms. Milan’s ability to do this because it is not easy. Establishing characters and a relationship that ends in a satisfying manner in under 200 pages takes skill, and not everyone has that skill. What especially struck me was that not only did she manage this, but she managed it with characters that were not inclined to trust each other — a white, Bristish military officer and a former slave fighting in the Continental Army.
As with The Promised Land, The Pursuit of… also taught me things that I never would have learned in a traditional classroom. For instance, I did not know that the Rhode Island Regiment allowed slaves their freedom if they fought. No one ever thinks about the role of slaves in the Revolution. There we were fighting for the idea that “all men are created equal” while at the same time the very person who wrote that line owned people. What hypocrites our founding fathers were. While this was not news to me, having spent enough time in American history classes in both high school and college, but it really hit me when reading the passages from John’s point of view. The conversation between him and Henry regarding the Declaration of Independence gave me goosebumps. More books should do this.
All the Stars (okay for simplicity’s sake, 5 Stars)
That Would Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
I wish I could say that I liked this as much as the other two novellas, but I can’t. I had a hard time connecting with either of the heroines and frankly, I thought that Andromeda was a bit of a creepy stalker. She was obviously the man in this relationship and the alpha characteristics that I hate in male characters, I liked even less in her. For what it is worth, I did enjoy the depiction of a successful woman of color in the Early 19th Century, but what was supposed to come off as confidence in herself felt more like cockiness than anything else. If she were a man, people would probably call what she had swagger, a term that for me equals arrogance.
Mercy was less of an issue for me, so I liked her more than Andromeda, but not much. If Andromeda was full of cocky arrogance, Mercy was the total opposite. Because of things that happened to her in the past, she had zero confidence in herself, especially when it came to dealing with emotions. She was burned really badly be someone she trusted and so she didn’t think she was capable of dealing with romantic love. This kind of backstory would have been handled better had it been given its own, full-length novel. Unfortunately, given the limitations of a novella, Mercy’s issues were wrapped up far too quickly.
That Would Be Enough was not all bad, though. I loved the interactions between Mercy and the Hamilton family (Eliza and her daughter Angelica — not to be confused with her sister, Angelica). If there is one thing I hope, it is that Eliza Hamilton was as accepting as she was depicted here. Based on what we learn at the end of Hamilton, we know that she was an abolitionist, but expecting someone born around the time of The Seven Years War (1756–1763) to accept a romantic and sexual relationship between two women might be a bit much, no matter how progressive she was.
I don’t remember the last time I read an anthology that I loved as much as I did Hamilton’s Battalion. For the most part, anthologies tend to have one good novella and two or three meh novellas, all of which I’ll have forgotten almost immediately. I finished this book more than a week ago and even not being totally impressed by That Would Be Enough, I haven’t forgotten a single thing about it. If these three authors decided to write a new anthology every year, I would gladly throw my money at them.
Overall Rating: 4 Stars