⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 4.5 stars
The Civil War is raging. Ellen “Elle” Burns, once a slave along with her parents, is a free negro living in the North. She’s chosen to relinquish that freedom to become an undercover spy for the Loyal League, Union supporters, posing as a mute slave girl in a confederate Senator’s home in Richmond, VA. The Loyal League’s mission is to help destroy the Confederacy. Elle’s assignment in Senator Caffrey’s home is to use her eidetic (photographic) memory to expose secessionists’ secrets. Elle is hopeful that her efforts will contribute to the end of slavery in the south. It’s risky business, but “anything for the Union,” she continually recites in her mind to dispel the hatred she has working as a slave under a cruel and exacting mistress, the Senator’s daughter, Susie. Susie is intent on vexing her daily—spewing racial epithets and making derogatory comments and accusatory statements that undermine Elle’s true character and nature. The condescension is almost beyond what she can bear. And with no way to defend herself, the mental pain inflicted is agonizing. Repressing her abhorrence for the oppression and denigration she’s experiencing, along with fellow slaves working in the Senator’s household, is excruciatingly difficult for Elle since she is highly intelligent and in reality, free. If that weren’t enough, Senator McCaffrey has got a new friend, Malcolm McCall, a confederate soldier who makes recurring visits to the Senator’s home. Initially terrified that Malcolm’s kindness towards Elle is a ploy to have his way with her, a common practice, Elle soon learns that McCall is also an undercover spy, working for Mr. Allan Pinkerton’s secret service, also Union supporters. The two must act wisely so as not to blow each others cover. This proves to be more difficult for Malcolm as he is almost immediately besotted by Elle’s beauty and her unique abilities as an undercover spy.
At first Elle views the Scotsman much the same as any other white man, an oppressor of her people, especially since his disguise consists of a grey confederate uniform, a stark reminder of the subjugation and brutality that her people endure by men who look like him. But his continued good-naturedness towards her gradually chips away her gruff, reticent exterior and before long she begins to fall for the man who can’t resist her. But they can’t allow their feelings for one another to supersede their mission. And there’s another problem. The senator’s daughter is continually making advances at Malcolm and wondering why he isn’t reciprocating. She’s becoming enraged and desperate because of his rejection, but Malcolm can’t bring himself to betray Elle, not even for the cause. The dejected woman’s actions culminate in an unthinkable act that threatens to ruin their mission. Can Malcolm and Elle do whatever it takes in support of the Union, exposing the secessionists and relaying vital information back to the Capital before it’s too late, or will their love prove to be a hindrance to the cause they’ve both been so committed to?
This book was suspenseful, educational, thought provoking, and poignant. The blatant racism was difficult to stomach. I had to continue to remind myself that this was the norm in those days, but I couldn’t help thinking about the prejudice and racism that still exists today.
I was rooting for Malcolm and Elle. Their forbidden love was difficult for me to envision because of the time period. They were well aware of the challenges it would cause, and the obstacles they faced seemed insurmountable. Their tenacious spirits and determination to fulfill their mission while preserving their secret relationship was inspiring.
Overall I enjoyed this book. There was lots of action and tense scenes that engaged me. I liked the idea of a romance between Malcolm and Elle, but I would have appreciated a more wholesome approach to it. Their scenes together were mostly lustful in nature, and that was disappointing to me since I prefer reading tender, wholesome romances. I skipped over the racy stuff. I guess I expected a more mellow romance with this one. Aside from that, a very good read.