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The Civil War has turned neighbor against neighbor—but for one scientist spy and her philosopher soldier, war could bind them together . . .
For all of the War Between the States, Marlie Lynch has helped the cause in peace: with coded letters about anti-Rebel uprisings in her Carolina woods, tisanes and poultices for Union prisoners, and silent aid to fleeing slave and Freeman alike. Her formerly enslaved mother’s traditions and the name of a white father she never knew have protected her—until the vicious Confederate Home Guard claims Marlie’s home for their new base of operations in the guerilla war against Southern resistors of the Rebel cause.
Unbeknowst to those under her roof, escaped prisoner Ewan McCall is sheltering in her laboratory. Seemingly a quiet philosopher, Ewan has his own history with the cruel captain of the Home Guard, and a thoughtful but unbending strength Marlie finds irresistible.
When the revelation of a stunning family secret places Marlie’s freedom on the line, she and Ewan have to run for their lives into the hostile Carolina night. Following the path of the Underground Railroad, they find themselves caught up in a vicious battle that could dash their hopes of love—and freedom—before they ever cross state lines.
Praise for An Extraordinary Union
“Brimming with vivid characterization, heartfelt dialogue, and sensual sweetness.”
—Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW
“An exceptional story that both educates and entertains and beautifully launches a unique series.”
Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
About the Author
Alyssa Cole is an award-winning author of historical, contemporary romance, and SFF romance. She's contributed to publications including Shondaland, The Toast, Vulture, RT Book Reviews, and Heroes and Heartbreakers, and her books have received critical acclaim from Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, Jezebel, Vulture, Book Riot, Entertainment Weekly, and various other outlets. When she’s not working, she can often be found watching anime with her husband or wrangling their menagerie of animals. Visit her online at www.https://alyssacole.com/
Read an Excerpt
Randolph County, North Carolina, April 1863
Somewhere outside of the prison walls, a Kentucky Warbler chirruped, reminding Ewan McCall of days spent searching for flashes of brilliant yellow plumage in the underbrush near his family's home. He wasn't a man prone to nostalgia, but the sound stirred something in him before it was lost amidst the racket of hammer meeting metal and men shouting as they worked.
Ewan pulled his thin jacket, a poor barter for a pair of shoes he'd purchased from a guard, closer around him in the chill afternoon air. Some of the prisoners longed for the warmth of late spring to arrive, but after his bids at Libby, Castle Thunder, and Florence during the warmer months, Ewan didn't count himself among them. Fleas and other vermin reveled in the sun's warmth like contented picnic goers; he didn't relish the thought of what the prison would be like when the first heat wave hit.
He didn't intend to be around to find out.
He rubbed his hands together and watched as prisoners laid pieces of curved metal over the creek that traversed the prison grounds; officers and infantrymen were lined up along the creek, some referring to the plans Ewan had sketched, others running back and forth carrying supplies. The project had given the men something to keep themselves occupied and, more importantly, it would benefit the prison population. The water source had served a number of uses for the thousand or so men in the camp, Union soldier and Rebel deserter alike, turning it into a source of disease. That would change now.
"Make sure the pieces are aligned correctly here," Ewan said, kneeling beside a sallow-skinned man who struggled with a wrench. "There should be an opening to allow for outflow when there's heavy rain."
The man nodded, clearly not as invested in the outcome as Ewan but, like most soldiers, willing to follow orders.
Warden Dilford walked up and stood beside them, gaze jumping anxiously between Ewan and the work being done. The man had come to Randolph around the same time as Ewan, and after four months of command still hadn't acclimated to his position of power. Given what most men did with power when they hadn't worked overmuch for it, Ewan was glad of that.
"So, because the prisoners will no longer be able to pollute the stream with their various, er, bodily functions, there will be fewer outbreaks of sickness and fewer deaths."
Dilford spoke slowly, making sure he understood Ewan's earlier explanation thoroughly, likely because he would soon be passing it off as his own idea. That was fine by Ewan. If Dilford claiming the idea meant it would be utilized at other prisons, all the better. Ewan had no need of glory; he was quite comfortable on the margins of life, observing. He also had other, more pressing reasons for avoiding attention.
"Yes, that's exactly it, Warden." Ewan stood, his gaze still fixed on the work, tracking the placement of rivets and nails. The small details were the only things one really had control over, though most men overlooked them in search of some grand purpose. Fools. Ewan knew that true power resided in life's minutiae, like exactly how far back a finger could bend before breaking or how much pain a man could take before he forgot about loving Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy, and even his own mother. But Ewan was in prison now, free from the kind of details that had become his field of study since the War Between the States had commenced.
A burst of noise erupted from a group of officers as they haggled over a small shovel with a soldier clad in a threadbare shirt. Ewan was surprised to see them clamoring for such base work. They lived in the nicer — relatively — clapboard accommodations instead of a patched-together tent like Ewan's, and generally avoided the lower ranking men. Ewan wasn't a lower ranking man, of course, but they wouldn't have known that. Ewan had gone to some pains to ensure that no one would.
Ewan noticed a fellow Union man from Ohio holding his hammer incorrectly as he battered at a nail, but ignored the itch to correct him. One need only worry about one's own faults, and Ewan had plenty to think on. The men at Randolph felt they didn't belong there, and with good reason, as they were generally imprisoned for the crime of fighting for the Union. That was one of the many differences between Ewan and his fellow inmates. He did belong there, and for the same reason.
When he'd enlisted, everyone had thought his reserved, peculiar nature meant he'd make a terrible soldier. They'd been correct. However, he'd quickly been given an assignment that made use of his attention to detail and his unbending sense of logic. Logic could be applied to all kinds of situations, and not all of them pleasant.
"You're a middling soldier, McCall, but it appears you can be of assistance to the Union in another way. ..."
He scrubbed his fingers through the itchy auburn scruff that he still hadn't acclimated to. A daily shave had been sacrosanct before his capture, but the beard kept him warm in the Carolina winter — and unrecognizable to any Rebs he might have interrogated before his capture.
"The spigots along the sides will allow prisoners access to the water for drinking, washing, and cooking, but the metal laid over the creek will cut down on the detritus," Ewan explained to Dilford again, "as will the mesh over the opening of the pipe's entrance through the stockade. That will have to be cleaned, daily if possible."
"Detritus. Right. We can get the Negro workers to do that when they come clean the officers' quarters and the latrines," Dilford said.
"The slaves," Ewan corrected. "The term 'worker' implies that payment is provided to them for their services. It is not."
Ewan had learned to rein in the impulse for correction when in general company — his brother, Malcolm, and sister, Donella, had grown so tired of his pedantry over the years that they'd taken to throwing things whenever he went on a tear — but some things he didn't allow to pass without comment. If Ewan wanted to be more precise, he might call them illegally detained emancipated slaves, given Lincoln's recent proclamation, but 'slave' sufficed. If the Southerners couldn't bear to call their human chattel by the proper name for them, then why had they started this ungodly war?
"Warden, got some fresh meat coming!" a guard called out.
"The, um. They can ensure that's done," Dilford said, looking back over his shoulder to nod at the guard. "Thank you for your assistance."
He turned and walked off toward the watch house. Guards in gray uniforms strolled along the ramparts, their eyes trained on the dead line that surrounded the perimeter of the prison — so named because anyone who crossed it was a dead man. Ewan saw the next shift of guards approaching and noted, again, how the on-duty guards looked away from their posts for a minute or so as they chatted and traded friendly jibes with their replacements. Such details always had some kind of value, and Ewan was excellent at exploiting the finer points in life.
"We've been going back and forth about the location of this stolen artillery for an hour now. I see you're determined to be obstinate," Ewan said. "In that case, maybe we should begin discussing anatomy."
"Anatomy?" the Rebel soldier asked. "Sure, we can talk 'bout that, since I ain't got nothin' else to say to a yellow-bellied Yank."
"Very well." Ewan pulled out the long, thin strip of metal his commanding officer had provided him. "Let's start with the joints."
"Hey, Red, the library is here," his business associate Keeley said, sidling up with a grin and drawing Ewan's attention back to the present. The dark- haired Irishman knew that Ewan spent as much time as he could with his face between the pages of a book. He also knew that when the book cart came, so did more supplies for the little prison business that kept them both afloat in an environment that led men to desperation and despair if they weren't resourceful. Did Keeley suspect anything else?
Ewan fought the growing sense of urgency that pushed him to turn and search through the camp until he found the wagon of books — and the woman who pulled it. He spotted familiar faces among the Negroes who came every two weeks with an offer of succor for the prisoners from their employer — he didn't call them slaves because they were actually paid, or so he'd heard. The woman who dispatched her staff every other week, Sarah Lynch, pushed every boundary a person could in the Confederate South without waving the Stars and Stripes, but always stayed just shy of anything that could get her charged with treason. He'd seen her once, soon after his first arrival: small, straight-backed, and lying through her teeth as she convinced the warden that it was simple Christian charity that drove her actions.
Ewan valued honesty, but he wouldn't fault her for lies made in the service of the greater good. His brother, Malcolm, lied to preserve the Union, and Ewan had done much worse in the same service. Sarah Lynch's lies meant that the inmates at Randolph were able to live slightly better than most prisoners of war — and that information flowed in and out that otherwise wouldn't. It helped her cause that if the prisoners shared in the bounty of her farm's harvest, so did the soldiers guarding them. The Rebel guards borrowed books from the same book cart, and the sick men of both sides asked for assistance from the woman he was currently seeking — not Sarah, but the woman whose gentle smile made Ewan question his principles each time she appeared within the confines of the stockade.
Something drew his gaze to the left, and there she was, kneeling next to a man laid out on the ground — one of the draft dodgers who had been hauled in by the Home Guard. The hunt for deserters had been in full swing since the winter, and their number at the prison camp grew every day. It was starting to seem to Ewan that the men in Randolph County who were against the Confederacy just might outnumber those who were for the blasted Rebels.
"This will get your fever down, John," she said, handing him a small bottle full of amber liquid, then digging into her apron pocket. "Take a sip when you wake up, at midday, and at night before you sleep. And chew one of these after you eat — do not swallow, you hear? That will help you keep your food down."
The sick prisoner took the handful of dark green leaves she pressed into his hand and nodded weakly.
Ewan's feet started to move toward her, acting seemingly of their own accord.
"You know how my Hattie's doing? And the chil'ren?" John asked. "I don't think David can handle the sowing alone, and Penny kills every crop she touches. Nicknamed her Pestilence." He chuckled, then shifted uncomfortably. "Hattie was sick, last I saw her. I told her to stop bringing me food into the woods, that she'd catch her death or get caught by the militia, but she was too good to me."
"They're faring well," Marlie said. There was the slightest hitch in her voice before the word "well," as if she'd considered another less optimistic one. "The crops didn't take, but we've been making sure they've got food. Don't you worry about that."
John nodded and she gave him a pat on the shoulder, then stood and brushed the dust from her skirts. Her gray gown was well made but simple; it lacked the hoops and other gaudy accoutrements that would have distracted from her figure beneath it.
My kingdom for a crinoline, Ewan thought as he turned his eyes away from the clearly outlined curves that strained against the material as she bent to adjust her hem. He couldn't look away from her for long though; he'd counted to five once, and that was the longest he'd lasted.
Her skin was a smooth light brown, throwing up undertones of yellow where the sun hit it. Her dark, curly hair was pulled back into a chignon, leaving her face, with its full mouth and pert nose, open for perusal. He'd noticed every detail of her face the first time he saw her, but it still took him aback with its loveliness every time. He'd once visited an exhibition of Greek art and seen a beautifully restored amphora. He'd been overwhelmed with the desire to hold it in his hands, an all-consuming urge that had nearly driven him to climb over the ropes separating the art from the public and seize it. The feeling that built in him when he saw Marlie was frighteningly similar.
She grabbed the handle of her cart and pulled, starting off in the opposite direction.
"Miss Marlie?" He felt a tickle of anxiety that she might leave before they had a chance to speak.
She looked over her shoulder at him and Ewan's heart leapt up into his throat. He knew it was anatomically impossible, but the strange shift in his chest and tightness in his trachea only happened when she appeared. He couldn't pretend it was simply the fact that she was a woman — other women had come and paraded along the ramparts, watching the imprisoned Union men like they were animals in a zoological exhibition, with little effect on him. Mastering his emotions had been the work of a lifetime, for both personal and practical reasons, and yet ... there he stood, staring at Marlie like a raccoon caught in the grain silo.
Her mismatched eyes were still as shocking as the first time he'd seen her. It should have been an imperfection, one brown eye and one green, but instead it gave her an ethereal air.
Was that pleasure in her expression? It wasn't something he was used to seeing directed toward him, and his heart thudded a bit harder. If she knew him for what he truly was, those indentations around her mouth wouldn't have deepened as she smiled.
"Oh. Good morning, Socrates. I've been looking for you."
Ewan felt his cheeks flame at the nickname she'd given him after their first encounter: He'd requested Greek philosophy from her book cart, and when she handed him a book of mythology, he'd responded with a lengthy correction on the difference between the two. He hadn't meant to; something about her had jangled his nerves. The more attentively she'd listened as he droned on about the difference between Homer and Hermagoras, the more donnish he'd become. He'd finally cut himself off and proffered an apology, as he'd been instructed by his mother and brother, but she'd simply smiled indulgently and said, "Never apologize for sharing your knowledge," before moving on to the next man.
Ewan had wanted to kick himself. His older brother, Malcolm, had been gifted with the talent of making women swoon from a hundred paces, while Ewan could bore them to sleep within a hundred words. He thought flirting and seduction to be petty wastes of a man's wit, but for the first time he'd wished he knew what to say to make a woman — Marlie specifically — think him dashing instead of dreary. He chalked up the strange impulse to prison-induced boredom.
The next time she'd come, she'd handed him a book entitled The Stoics of Ancient Greece. There'd been comments penciled into the margins of the book, agreeing with or challenging certain points. It was in a copy of Plato's Republic that the first note directed to him had appeared on the flyleaf page. "Dear Socrates, No one else in my acquaintance cares for my thoughts on a long dead Greek, so I shall share them with you. ..."
She'd gone on to impugn everything he believed in, but that hadn't stopped him from carefully ripping the page out and rereading each looping word by the light of the fires that dotted the prison yard every night. He had several such pages, stuffed into his pocket. They passed a few moments discussing her thoughts each time she came, cordially, as if he didn't know the loop and slope of her words intimately.
"Hello," he said when he finally reached her. His voice sounded overly forceful even to his own ears, and he tried to inject a bit of diffidence into his tone. "I have another letter to send to my family, if that's all right. And I was wondering if you'd perhaps been able to procure the supplies I requested." He wondered more than that as he watched the corners of her lips turn up. The shape of her mouth, wide and lush, was perfection. Literally. He'd spent enough time reflecting on it to know it was symmetrical, harmonious, and well-proportioned: the Golden Mean in the flesh, and inspiration for thoughts that no man who was truly master of himself should be having.
She looked around, making sure no guards were watching, and then handed him a small pouch, grabbing the letter at the same time and tucking it into her bag in a smooth, practiced motion. The bag landed in his palm with a metallic clink. "I have no idea what you need these for, but here they are. I have something else for you as well. I saw it and thought of you."
Excerpted from "A Hope Divided"
Copyright © 2017 Alyssa Cole.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If all historical fiction was as excellent as Alyssa Cole's The Loyal League series is, I would read much more historical fiction. Discovering her writing this year has been an absolute gift and I was delighted her latest novel exceeded my expectations. A Hope Divided introduces us to Marlie, a freed biracial woman, and Ewan, an escaped prisoner of the Confederate and also Malcolm's brother. (An Extraordinary Union is Malcolm's story but you don't need to read it first. Although you should totally still read it.) Marlie was raised by her formerly enslaved mother, a root worker, and learned how to make herbal remedies, along with the superstitions. When she goes to live with her white family at the Lynch plantation, she's introduced to science and more modern beliefs about medicine. Whether Marlie was preparing plants to make a poultice or diagnosing someone's malady, I loved every part of the story that dealt with her abilities as a healer. Marlie was fiercely intelligent and compassionate. She's torn between the ways of her mother and the ways of the white world she now finds herself in. She doesn't fully belong in either place and I think this is why she throws herself so fully into her studies and improving how she makes her remedies. She's also lonely. She may have the Lynch name but she doesn't have the same freedoms as her white sister. Marlie's sister Sarah is an abolitionist and the women are a part of the Underground Railroad. Marlie is also a part of the Loyal League, passing along information to the Union Army. Marlie regularly visits the prison to aid the sick and bring what's essentially a lending library. This is how she meets Ewan. They have a meeting of the minds, scribbling thoughts and opinions into the pages of books they pass back and forth. Let me tell you: their banter was on fire! Ewan is a tortured soul and I found him to be intelligent and kind. However, he believes himself to be a sociopath because of what he did on behalf of the Union Army. He has powerful skills of observation and ways of making people talk. I wondered if he might be high functioning on the Autism scale because of how his mind seemed to work. Ewan is lonely too and the connection he forms with Marlie is powerful, even if neither can act on it. When Ewan escapes prison, he ends up hiding in Marlie's house...while it's being occupied by the Home Guard. My heart was in my throat once this happened because of the extremely high tension. I worried for Marlie and Ewan and what would happen if they were caught. And at the same time, this afforded them the opportunity to get to know each other better and deepen their connection. Cole weaves in such fascinating historical facts. Not everyone in the South fought for the Confederacy. Besides abolitionists, Quakers and poor people wanted to stay out of the fight. Abolitionists had their own prejudices, which we see in Marlie's sister Sarah. Her characters are complex and she gives them room to wrestle with their doubts and insecurities, even in the face of dangerous circumstances. It makes for a book that's hard to put down! This is a slow burn romance and I greatly appreciated how Cole developed the romance around the events. They never lost sight of the stakes, nor their need to stay alive, no matter how great their chemistry was. When they finally declared their feelings, I wanted to swoon and cheer! This was such an incredibly satisfying book. Disclosure: I received an ARC from NetGalley.
The lives of Ewan McCall, a Union soldier and Marlie Lynch, a biracial woman intersect during the Civil War. Marlie lends a helping hand with her knowledge of healing by using root medicine on wounded soldiers. She forms a friendly relationship with Ewan as his informal lending librarian and they bond over books and philosophy. These tasks serve a dual purpose so she can report back to the Loyal League. They reunite weeks later after Ewan escapes from prison and ends up (with some unexpected help) at Marlie's family home. A home where eventually Marlie is held prisoner because of the hatred one family member holds for her. As a temporary and necessary solution, Ewan is forced to hide in Marlie's room. Though a bit scandalous, it's mostly innocent as they work and dine together, discuss books, life and family. They find that sometimes getting to know someone is NOT in the agreement of things, but in the disagreement of things. Marlie finds cracks in who she believes Ewan to be underneath the surface and there are things she doesn't like or fully understand. Ewan discovers Marlie can be a bit blinded by her own beliefs and how she sees the people around her. With her half-brother's wife on a rampage to further her agenda of hatred, the tension in the Lynch Household begins to escalate and then explodes. Marlie is taught a lesson in cruelty and after nearly being discovered, Ewan is forced to flee and he convinces Marlie to come with him. Marlie's medicinal gifts assures them of some comforts, such as food and overnight lodging as they plan to make their way to Tennessee and then go their separate ways. Ewan wants a life with Marlie, but Marlie refuses to give into her heart's desire because of her recent discovery of her mother's past. At this point in the story Marlie becomes a bit of brat blaming the Lynch Family for not exposing their secrets. The blame actually lies with her Maman who took the secret -- a secret Marlie deserved to know -- in spoken form to her grave. This story placed me in the middle of the action and I felt their fear and anxiety of an unknown future. The fate of an enemy did not satisfy my own particular thirst for revenge. I enjoyed this story and I learned something, which is always a plus. I hope this series continues because I'm interested in reading Daniel's Story.
I absolutely adored this novel! Alyssa Cole has a way of transporting readers and delivering a powerful, compelling journey that sticks with you long after the last page. A Hope Divided is book two in the Loyal League series, immersing us in the midst of the civil war with a healer and a Unionist soldier. Marlie Lynch found a place of shelter within Lynchwood, but when it floods with her enemies, Marlie’s shroud of safety comes crashing down. But she also finds a friend of sorts in soldier, Ewan McCall. But with all that divides them, can they cross the chasm and build something together? I think I held my breath through the entire book because there was so much riding against these two, but the connection... !! *swoons* I adored Marlie. She's part of the Loyal League, delivering any intelligence she can; she's a scientist, determined to bring new methods of healing; she also starts a lending library for the local inmates at a nearby prison. It's there that she meets Ewan. Her nickname for him? Oh, my gosh. All kinds of perfect! Ewan won my heart just as quickly as Marlie. He’s a stickler for details, knows his inquisitive nature can be rather abrasive to some, but it's this intensity of his that captures Marlie's attention. And even though Ewan's got demons riding him hard, he just can’t look away from her either. It isn't long before fate steps in in ways neither anticipated. How these two begin to interact…the way they build their connection…it was magic, plain and simple. Their dynamic is so compelling to watch and I yearned with them. This book was masterfully crafted and absolutely riveting. It delivers hard truths, but there's this undeniable strand of hope here too. I lived this book—these moments—and I cherished every step of the journey. I highly recommend the Loyal League series. 5 stars!
I thought I was prepared, as I picked this up immediately after finishing An Extraordinary Union, but this was an even more intense read. I think it would be unfair to the historical record for any book involving the Civil War to not be uncomfortable reading at times. But, oh my goodness, I loved this book. And, let me get this out of my system, that COVER! Absolutely gorgeous! While this is the second in a series, you don’t need to have read the first book to read this one – though, seriously, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out! It’s hard not to compare this to the previous book. Marlie is a very different heroine than Elle. For one, she’s led a very sheltered life as the illegitimate daughter of a well-respected white family. Most of her life revolves around her mixing medicines in her set of rooms in the attic. While very different from Elle, Marlie shows her strength in her own ways, in her insistence on being self-sufficient. But while I loved her, it was Ewan who was the true heart of the book for me. Oh, Ewan! From the very first, I realized that Ewan was on the autism spectrum. “I have always been the odd boy, the strange young man. I asked too many questions, or turned the conversation to things that pleased me and bored everyone else. Easily frustrated and eternally restless.” I’ve read a few romances with neurodivergent heroes, and Ewan is one of the best in terms of speaking to my experiences with people with autism – his reliance on a Greek philosophy book for his set of moral rules, his difficulties with emotions, his frustration at interacting with other people. Sometimes, when authors write characters who are “different,” you end up feeling like they’re overemphasizing the disability over the person. In this case, Ms. Cole did a wonderful job of presenting Ewan as he is, as a human being and not just a disability. Ewan’s confusion at his developing relationship with Marlie, and his attempt to apply logic to their relationship, brought me to tears several times. In terms of themes, this book went further than the first in exploring social issues around the Civil War. While I felt the interracial relationship was the core of the first book, in this one, it’s more of the justifications behind the war and the reaction to it from blacks and whites, both for and against the war. It’s about learning to rely on others, about respecting family history – and family secrets. That’s not to say the book is all heavy stuff – there’s quite a bit of laugh out loud humor. What it does mean is that this is a book that’ll stick with you long after you’ve finished it. “[C]lose your eyes and listen to your heart, which may lead you astray but will always guide you to the path you were meant to take.” This is easily one of my top-5 books of 2017. Highly recommended! I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Rated 4.5 Stars I love this author's voice. Her books always pull me in from the first word and don't let me go until the very last. That's not entirely true as hours even days later I'm still thinking about the characters and the world they inhabit. A Hope Divided is no different, it pulled me in from word one and I have no doubt that I'll be thinking about these characters for sometime. This book is an emotional rollercoaster. It had me flipping through emotions at a rapid rate. I'd be happy, then sad, then angry, then nervous, then anxious and so on. It was thrilling. I loved it and definitely recommend it. Copy provided by publisher through Net Galley