Review: Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole

Aidee’s review of Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole
Historical romance anthology released on October 17, 2017

Book CoverLove 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.

Anthologies are strange creatures, in that they’re collections of novellas or short stories, loosely bound by a theme—sometimes. They’re great for seeing snippets of an author’s writing, although, shorter stories being what they are—namely, not a novel—they can be inaccurate representations of what an author can do. But fear not! I’m here to tell you, in case you haven’t heard it from someone else, that Hamilton’s Battalion is the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow, the dark chocolate of anthologies. (Okay, maybe not dark chocolate, but definitely a really fine dessert of your choice.) All three novellas stick to the theme in the blurb, and they’re wonderful in their own ways. This is, also, quite possibly the most diverse collection of characters I’ve seen in a month, at least.

Let me tell you about the characters. Because these are novellas, and because what I most want is for you to buy this book and read it, I’ll be quick. Over all, these characters have experienced a lot, and they have very strong feelings about what they have experienced, ranging from anger to confusion to fear to hope. The authors manage to express those feelings and the justification for them in the limited amount of space they have to tell their stories. There’s a reason why Rachel is upset with Nathan at the beginning of Promised Land, and there’s a reason that Nathan is “self-righteously indignant.” Neither of them is necessarily right, but they have their reasons for feeling the way they do—which I can’t tell you, because then you’d be angry at me for spoiling this story. Similarly, Milan conveys Henry and John’s struggles in a way that doesn’t prioritize one man’s situation. And Cole shows us why Mercy is so afraid, as well as Andromeda’s impulsiveness in a way that doesn’t diminish either woman’s perspective. And finally, these characters were all drawn very vividly. I could imagine Rachel’s determination, and Nathan’s joy at being able to reunite with her; I could picture John’s confusion with Henry’s nonstop talking and also see how Henry had internalized the criticisms from his father; and last but not least, I could see Mercy keeping herself apart from the world, then experiencing all that the world has to offer.

Things I liked about this anthology: Everything! I’m joking, that would be an exaggeration. I liked the cohesiveness of the anthology as a whole. The authors achieved this in different ways. Lerner told the story in an extended flashback, while Courtney Milan told the story and then showed John and Henry telling it to Eliza Hamilton, and Cole uses the connection to Hamilton as part of the backstory for Mercy and Andromeda.

In Lerner’s novella, we see the honorable woman-dressing-as-a-man set up, but with interesting and unusual connotations. For one, Rachel breaks many religious traditions/rules when she disguises herself and joins the army. She also asks Hamilton to verify that she is not a woman, after telling him that she is. (It’s funny and awkward, not steamy.) Furthermore, we get to see Nathan and Rachel trying to be better for each other. Nathan tries to give Rachel her space by not talking so much and listening to her, even though it isn’t in his nature to do so. And Rachel tries to communicate her wants and feelings to him, instead of not wanting to understand her or assuming he already understands her. I have rarely seen that amount of growth in a novella, and yet it didn’t feel rushed.

In Courtney Milan’s novella, we get two men who, as per the cover copy, come from very different worlds. John doesn’t trust white men, for good reasons. John doesn’t expect Henry to sit with him and his fellow black soldiers when he invites Henry to join them for dinner. He doesn’t expect Henry to keep his promise to join him on the road to Rhode Island. Henry, on the other hand, has been bitten by the equality bug, so to speak. But when John points out that the Declaration of Independence only refers to certain men being equal, Henry doesn’t brush away John’s comments. Instead, he struggles with the facts, trying to fit how he feels about John as a person—which he doesn’t put a lot of thought into at the beginning—to how he feels about all men being equal and having unalienable rights. I promise you that there is a happy ending to that struggle. We get quotes from Henry like “Surely you have heard of the Lacerator of the Loyalists?” and “the cheese prevails.” This is balanced out in two ways: Henry also acknowledges that if all men were created equal, then it stands to reason that means men of all races are included in that—which still isn’t enough for John, and, like I said before, John provides commentary on the realities of being a Black person in revolutionary America.

Alyssa Cole’s That Could be Enough features Mercy and Andromeda as the heroines of the novella. Andromeda reminds me a little of Henry, not because they’re superficially similar, but because they’re both simultaneously impulsive and thoughtful. Andromeda loves beauty, she is a businesswoman who is also creative. Mercy has been hurt in the past and has determined that the best way to survive life as a black woman who isn’t expected to take up space is to emotionally shut herself off from the world. Andromeda gradually begins to earn Mercy’s trust, and Mercy begins to open herself to the beauty and emotions of the world around her, but it isn’t smooth sailing. Both women have to apologize for certain things they said or didn’t say before they can be a happy couple.

My only quibble with this anthology is that I wish there were more stories about the other interesting secondary characters. In particular, Lerner and Milan did a good job of incorporating secondary characters that seemed three-dimensional without having them overshadow the main characters. Lerner showed us Rachel interacting with her fellow soldiers both during her service and once she was discharged. Milan sets up a community of people around John and Henry, hinting that they have a support network, which is lovely to see.

Other than that, I think people should go and read this anthology as soon as possible. It imagined what life could have been like for minorities at the beginning of the United States, and showed those minorities believing in ideals that didn’t always include them. And, of course, there were happy endings.

Grade: A

You can read an excerpt of Promised Land hereThe Pursuit Of here, or buy a copy of Hamilton’s Battalion here.

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