That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole is one of a trio of historical romance novellas (published as Hamilton’s Battalion) inspired by the musical Hamilton and the way it held a lens of marginalized identities to view the founding of the United States. Romance authors Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner, and Alyssa Cole each created a story of romance in wartime, connected by the framing story of Eliza Hamilton’s quest for stories of those who has served under her husband. All three stories are well worth reading, but only Cole’s features a female couple.
Mercy Alston, a black maid in the Hamilton household also serves as Mrs. Hamilton’s secretary to transcribe the stories being collected about the late Alexander Hamilton. This brings her into contact with Andromeda Stiel, another African American woman who is bringing her grandfather’s story for the collection. Sparks fly, but Mercy has been betrayed by a woman’s inconstancy before, leaving not only her heart but her dreams in tatters.
Both women are delightfully real and engaging, even with their very different personalities. Andromeda is bold, forthright, and ready to seize everything life offers. Mercy is quiet, brilliant, and deeply wounded by a past relationship. If I empathized more with Mercy, it’s because we share similar flinch-reflexes. Each has her own goals an motivations apart from the romance and those drive the larger structure of the story. Cole has also done a great job of weaving a larger community of color in early 19th century New York that the women move through.
The Writing Style
This is a novella, so it’s compact with a relatively straightforward plot. The glory is in the wealth of details and the way the author lets us inside the heads of both protagonists. The history is rock solid without being oppressive.
I loved how the story engaged with the historic setting from an angle we rarely get to read about. (All three stories in the collection do: the other two involve an estranged Jewish couple in which the woman has been masquerading as a man to serve in the army, and an interracial male couple who find themselves on opposite sides of the war.) Alyssa Cole specializes in historical romance with black protagonists, and the love she pours into writing characters that share her identity shows.
I wish that Alyssa Cole would write more female couples! (But an author has to eat, so I understand why most of her books are aimed at a larger audience.) Not a con for me, but some people have complained that the major conflict between the two women is one of those “if only they’d talk to each other for five minutes” issues. But the thing is: if I were in Mercy’s place, I would have reacted exactly the way she did. What’s the point of trying to talk about what you believe is a betrayal if your entire life has led you to expect to be betrayed? Better to hide your hurt and move on. So I found the conflict utterly believable, but not everyone does.
If you’ve been looking for a solid “taster” historical romance to see if you like the field, this is exactly what you need. There’s enough erotic content to meet the typical lesfic expectations without overwhelming the plot and the writing is superb. The three stories from the collection have recently been released as singles, but it’s worth getting the full collection and giving the others a try, even though they aren’t lesbian stories.
Excerpt from That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
That was the thing no one told you: great love took more than it gave, and the greatest love could obliterate everything you’d been. It could eat up every bit of you—your past, your hopes and dreams—it was all-consuming, never satiated. Mercy’s literacy and adeptness with words had been recruited to feed that awful hunger on behalf of Mrs. Eliza Hamilton, and thus Mercy’s room had been outfitted with a desk. It was for efficiency’s sake, nothing more.
Mrs. Hamilton didn’t know about the words that had once pounded in Mercy’s heart and in her skull and forced themselves through the nib of her quill like blood welling from a wound. Mrs. Hamilton didn’t know the words had stopped, casualties of Mercy’s own great love—they had been Mercy’s sacrifice. It was all for the best, really. Those words had been dangerous.
Mercy had a brief flash of memory: paper curling into ash. Her words—her world—being consumed by flames. A smile that she had once found lovely marred by contempt.
“Don’t be foolish, Mercy. You seek beauty in everything, but sometimes there is no beauty in the truth.”
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Bits and Bobs
- Publisher: Seditious Sisters