Thu
Oct 12 2017 9:30am

First Look: Hamilton’s Battalion Anthology (October 17, 2017)

Hamilton's Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole

Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole
Hamilton's Battalion
Courtney Milan / October 17, 2017 / $4.99 digital 

If you, dear reader, have been longing for something more in the world of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, you must go read Hamilton's Battalion. If you are ambivalent about the Revolutionary War, don’t care for stories of love and perseverance, or are otherwise not into historical romance… you may not enjoy it. For some context, I came into this reading as a fan of the musical, but not a super-fan, as I’ve never been to see it and haven’t read the books. Now that you know I’m a moderate fan, I can say that this is the most moving, inspiring, heartbreaking, hopeful book I’ve read all year. I’ve read 154 books so far in 2017.

Hamilton's Battalion is a trio of novellas by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole. Each novella can stand alone, but the authors did stitch them together with a common thread, something that connected the stories to each other and to real life events. Characters in each story were connected to Alexander Hamilton’s victory at the Battle of Yorktown, and the stories are being dictated to Eliza Hamilton as she collects them for her husband’s memoirs.

In Promised Land by Rose Lerner, Rachel is pretending to be a man so that she can fight in the Continental Army. She’s leading men and fighting for a cause she believes in, the ideal of a country in which Jewish people will be welcomed. Since she faked her own death to run off to the army, it’s rather awkward when someone from her past shows up in the camp. This is a complex second-chance romance, in which Rachel and Nathan must decide if the future can accommodate their past. As Rachel struggles with the rules of Judaism and womanhood, Nathan looks at the world through her eyes and both are humbled and inspired. This is a beautiful story that makes frequent references to Jewish customs and firmly sets the reader in the center of the physical and emotional action. Lerner spends time discussing the lunar calendar, cannons, rations… it’s a fascinating story on every level, and the romance propels the narrative forward. Touch is particularly dangerous and intimate since Rachel is pretending to be a man, and their shared past heightens the emotional stakes.

In Pursuit Of... by Courtney Milan is my favorite of the three stories, if only because it made me laugh out loud at least half a dozen times. John, a former slave from Rhode Island, spares the life of Henry, a British soldier who deserts during the battle. When the fighting is over, Henry offers to walk with John all the way from Virginia back to Newport. In pairing a wealthy white man with a poor black man, Milan could have made this story a litany of violence, shame, and guilt. While these elements are certainly present, it’s a testament to her skill that she not only uses their differences to heighten tension and intimacy between the characters, but she also makes the reader laugh. I laughed a lot. Henry is a babbler, a talker, a nonstop chatterbox. John plays the straight man to Henry’s antics, which is amusing and when he admits to enjoying them, rather touching. The romance between the two men is beautiful and drawn out over several years, with an HEA that made me happy-sigh. Henry is also rather attached to the Declaration of Independence, a document that John rightly calls out for referring only to white men. This is a story for anyone who has looked at those first few lines and wanted to shake the Founding Fathers for leaving out anyone not white and male. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, and exactly the read I needed in 2017.

The final novella, That Would Be Enough by Alyssa Cole, is the story of Andromeda, granddaughter of Cole’s couple in Be Not Afraid, and Mercy, a servant in Eliza Hamilton’s household. We meet Mercy in the second novella, as she is transcribing the story of Henry and John. She is deeply unhappy, moving through her life by relying on ritual and order and suppressing her desires. She’s been at The Grange for ten years when Andromeda shows up and completely upends her orderly life. Andromeda is a powerhouse of a woman. She is unapologetically black, female, gay, and ambitious. As Cole says in her endnotes, none of this is anachronistic. We’ve been taught that women like her would have been unhappily married, enslaved, and/or impoverished. Many were, but it’s important to recognize that, throughout the history of this nation, marginalized people have found their own paths, made their own communities, lifted up those around them. Andromeda is a seamstress, owns her own shop, helps other black women start businesses, and is an all-around pillar of her community. Mercy is an incredibly restrained contrast, which gives their romance an aching, yearning quality that is both subdued and intense. Predictably, the tight hold Mercy has kept on her emotions leads to an explosion of cold fury when she thinks she’s been betrayed. That fight leaves Andromeda a shell of herself, Cole giving us a glimpse of the incredibly sensitive soul that this strong, outgoing woman possesses. It’s a quieter, more subdued story than the other two, and no less powerful for it.

As the dedication states, this book is for everyone who is still waiting for the sequel, a reference to Angelica’s line in the musical, that she’ll compel Jefferson to “include women in the sequel.” Lerner’s characters want to make sure Jewish people are recognized as having fought for Independence. Milan’s characters are both an interracial couple and a gay couple, barriers that are only now starting to come down. Cole’s characters are finding happiness in a country that, decades after Independence, is still finding itself. This book is for everyone who wonders why Eliza, after being betrayed and hurt by Alexander, could still love him and fight for his legacy. This book is for everyone who feels the same way about our country and the ideals for which we still must fight.

***

Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Hamilton's Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole, available October 17, 2017:

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When not blogging for H&H, Suzanne writes about comics for Love in Panels, works as an Author Assistant, and reads All the Things. Tweets about books, comics, and farm animals @cerestheories.

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2 comments
Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I have tickets to see Hamilton next week and this will be the perfect chaser! Can't wait to read.
Kareni
2. Kareni
This truly sounds excellent! Thanks for your review, Suzanne.
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