The Promised Land by Rose Lerner
Ms. Lerner was the only one of the three authors that I had never heard of before picking up this anthology, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this particular novella, especially considering the cross-dressing aspect of it. I know this is something of a mainstay of the romance genre, but I haven’t actually encountered it before, so I didn’t know what to make of the fact that the main character was successfully pretending to be a man. It takes a lot to get me to try something as cliched as the cross-dressing trope. To my surprise, I enjoyed this immensely.
The relationship between Rachel and Nathan was a lot of fun (even without Rachel pretending to be a man). I loved watching them try to figure each other out after not seeing each other for five years. These were people who knew each other completely, or at least they thought they did, and now they’re having to reevaluate what they knew. Ms. Lerner did an outstanding job of making you understand their confusion over their current situation and what brought them there.
What I liked the most about this installment was learning Rachel’s reasons for wanting to fight in the Revolution. In school, we’re taught one thing — the British government was tyrannous and the American colonists wanted their freedom. No one ever talks about why individual people wanted to fight. Sure, some of them did it because of the collective anger over The Stamp Act, but not everyone did. I found particular significance in Rachel’s reasons as a Jewish woman fighting to start a brand new country. Not growing up Jewish and learning the standard, white Christian history, I was unaware of the fact that Jewish people were not in fact citizens of any country in the world until the United States gave citizenship to them. I knew that anti-semitism was rampant for much of history (and sadly is seeing a resurgance thanks to a certain orange asshole currently taking up residence in the White House), but it had never occured to me that members of the Jewish faith could not become citizens unless they converted to The Church of England. It makes me wonder how many people decided to join the Continental Army in the hopes of finally having a country that would accept them.
The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan
When I finished reading The Pursuit of…, I tweeted out that I need to come up with a new rating system because this novella deserves a higher rating than 5 stars out of 5. I spent an entire night reading this and would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved the fact that a novella successfully depicted a slow burn romance between two characters who had not met prior to the start of the story. I have mad respect (do people still say this?) for Ms. Milan’s ability to do this because it is not easy. Establishing characters and a relationship that ends in a satisfying manner in under 200 pages takes skill, and not everyone has that skill. What especially struck me was that not only did she manage this, but she managed it with characters that were not inclined to trust each other — a white, Bristish military officer and a former slave fighting in the Continental Army.
As with The Promised Land, The Pursuit of… also taught me things that I never would have learned in a traditional classroom. For instance, I did not know that the Rhode Island Regiment allowed slaves their freedom if they fought. No one ever thinks about the role of slaves in the Revolution. There we were fighting for the idea that “all men are created equal” while at the same time the very person who wrote that line owned people. What hypocrites our founding fathers were. While this was not news to me, having spent enough time in American history classes in both high school and college, but it really hit me when reading the passages from John’s point of view. The conversation between him and Henry regarding the Declaration of Independence gave me goosebumps. More books should do this.
All the Stars (okay for simplicity’s sake, 5 Stars)
That Would Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
I wish I could say that I liked this as much as the other two novellas, but I can’t. I had a hard time connecting with either of the heroines and frankly, I thought that Andromeda was a bit of a creepy stalker. She was obviously the man in this relationship and the alpha characteristics that I hate in male characters, I liked even less in her. For what it is worth, I did enjoy the depiction of a successful woman of color in the Early 19th Century, but what was supposed to come off as confidence in herself felt more like cockiness than anything else. If she were a man, people would probably call what she had swagger, a term that for me equals arrogance.
Mercy was less of an issue for me, so I liked her more than Andromeda, but not much. If Andromeda was full of cocky arrogance, Mercy was the total opposite. Because of things that happened to her in the past, she had zero confidence in herself, especially when it came to dealing with emotions. She was burned really badly be someone she trusted and so she didn’t think she was capable of dealing with romantic love. This kind of backstory would have been handled better had it been given its own, full-length novel. Unfortunately, given the limitations of a novella, Mercy’s issues were wrapped up far too quickly.
That Would Be Enough was not all bad, though. I loved the interactions between Mercy and the Hamilton family (Eliza and her daughter Angelica — not to be confused with her sister, Angelica). If there is one thing I hope, it is that Eliza Hamilton was as accepting as she was depicted here. Based on what we learn at the end of Hamilton, we know that she was an abolitionist, but expecting someone born around the time of The Seven Years War (1756–1763) to accept a romantic and sexual relationship between two women might be a bit much, no matter how progressive she was.