A spy posing as a slave in Civil War Virginia risks her own life and the outcome of the war by falling in love with a fellow spy of another race.
After being freed from slavery as a child, Ellen “Elle” Burns has one purpose. She is “going to help destroy the Confederacy.” But to do that, she has to do something she never imagined possible—pose as an enslaved woman on loan to a family of spoiled whites. Her “masters” are living the high life in spite of a punishing Union blockade that’s causing widespread suffering and starvation in Richmond, Virginia. Elle’s photographic memory makes her extremely valuable to the Loyal League, a network of black spies working to undermine the Confederacy. But her careful work is thrown into disarray by the arrival of Malcolm McCall, a detective in the Pinkerton network who is posing as a Confederate soldier paying social visits to the household where Elle works. Malcolm is a skilled spy and a good person, but Elle has a hard time bringing herself to trust a glib and charming white man whose job requires him to be a gifted liar. Little by little Malcolm wins her over, but the painful racial dynamics around them threaten to poison their relationship. Malcolm must treat Elle as less than human in front of others while convincing her in private that he values her as highly as any white woman. The first installment in Cole’s (Mixed Signals, 2015, etc.) Loyal League series defies genre stereotypes at every turn. It's both a romance and a spy novel, with a healthy dose of adventure thrown in, and it offers a nuanced portrayal of Civil War–era racial politics. Any reader who thinks romance novels are pure fluff will be schooled by Cole’s richly drawn characters, who must overcome generations of trauma in order to let themselves love each other.
A masterful tale that bodes well for future work from Cole.