The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.
Alex and Elizahas taken the world by storm. Whether the play by Lin-Manuel Miranda or the novels by Melissa De La Cruz, people are craving for more information about the Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza Schuyler. The first in the series, Alex and Eliza, and its sequel,Love & War,emphasize the romance more than the historical, as the author brings to life the love story of these two Revolutionary figures.
Melissa wants to emphasize, “Alex is a creation based on an historical figure. I consider him someone I made up from the real person. These are characters. They may be historical figures, but they are also characters of my imagination. I think that Alexander Hamilton never went by the name ‘Alex.’ There is no way Eliza would call him ‘Alex’, and more likely called him Mr. Hamilton till the day he died.”
In the first book, Alex and Eliza,the plot spans the years from when they first met in 1777 to their marriage in 1780. Because there is not much information about Eliza, the author had to take liberties to construct a story that was somewhat accurate, weaving together fact and fiction.
Hamilton is seen as a smitten dashing knight who sweeps the princess, Eliza, off her feet. But it is also a Prince and the Pauper story since Hamilton was an orphan who did not have a name or financial means. The bright, ambitious, but penniless Hamilton is drawn to practical Eliza, falling deeply in love. His prestige comes from being the aide-de-camp to General George Washington.
Eliza is seen as a strong-willed, sharp-tongued, sarcastic, and intelligent woman. She wants to marry for love, not prestige and wealth, but will not go against her parent’s wishes. A book quote shows how powerless women were during those times, “It is a cliff, a drop into some unfathomably deep and foggy abyss… a shipwreck.” Yet, in the end, love wins out, and her parents accept Hamilton as a suitable husband.
She wanted to write it as a perfect American fairy tale. "Elizabeth (Eliza) was the princess coming from one of the most prestigious and richest New York families. Then there was Alexander Hamilton, a handsome, brilliant, brave, and charming war hero who had no name and no money. I thought about how someone like him could marry someone like her.”
Readers will get a glimpse of the time period: how they dress, eat, and live are described in great detail. For example, a scene in the book has Eliza helping to inoculate Washington’s troops with a smallpox vaccine. Fiction, Eliza did not have a hand in it, while, the truth is that the soldiers were inoculated. Another factual scene has a description of Eliza’s dress, with “skirt, underskirt, petticoat, slip, and ankle-length, form-fitting pantaloons.”
Melissa, “I am fascinated with the time period including the architecture, dress, and what they ate. What I wanted to do is find the facts and then incorporate them into scenes of the books. I myself tried to understand who they were, how they lived, and how they partied. I enjoyed finding the details that helps to bring this story to life.”
The second book in the series, Love & War, by Melissa De La Cruz has the Revolutionary War still prominent, although it is coming to an end. This story shows the struggles of early married life as Alexander Hamilton is trying to make a name for himself to prove himself worthy, while Eliza is trying to make her way into high society.
The story delves into the same problem many young couples face, even today, how Alexander Hamilton has a burning ambition, and Eliza is trying to find her place in this world. At first, he was off to war, leaving his newly wed bride with her family, and then at the war’s conclusion he starts up his law practice, spending long hours, and basically neglecting his wife.
Unlike the first book, this one does have more of a balance between romance and history. It delves into the topics of unemployment, financial crises, and the political divide. As a lawyer, he took on many loyalist clients, arguing for reconciliation and challenged the laws that penalized them. The story touches on the three views of political thought for this young nation: Hamilton believes in a strong central government; Jefferson’s belief is a middle ground of limited government except for national security, and those like Governor George Clinton who wants each state to have absolute control. With a quote that is relevant today, the author shows the divide among Americans, “We will only stand if we learn to accept and even embrace each other’s differences rather than allow them to divide us.”
The case he argues is based on many similar cases. "I found out he became known after the Revolution as someone who defended those loyal to the Crown. After the War, many wanted to take the Loyalists’ property and position. He had the foresight to know that to be the United States of America everyone had to be a part of this country.”
Readers get a glimpse into the real personality of Eliza. How Hamilton is growing to depend on her as his psychological anchor, where she views his enemies as hers. There is a fictional scene in the book where she calls out Governor Clinton as she defends her husband, “This man whose hand I hold and whose ring I share put his life on the line for this country over and over…” This is a very similar tone to what actually happened when she told former President James Monroe, “If you come to tell me you repent, that you are sorry, very sorry, for the misrepresentations and the slanders and the stories you circulated against my dear husband…”
The dialogue in this novel creates an atmosphere that fluctuates between joy and anger whether between husband and wife, or between the three Schuyler sisters. It delves into how each must face their trials and tribulations.
Because the play implies an attraction between the oldest sister Angelica and Hamilton, “I wanted to write my own vision. I have a sister and thought ‘no way would she like him in a romantic way.’ They were sisters who loved one another. Angelica adored Eliza. In this story, I do not have Angelica and Hamilton attracted to each other in that way. I remember telling people that Lin-Manuel is not a girl with a sister or he would know it just would not happen. I do not think Angelica would ever do that because she took the role of older sister seriously. Of course, he was close to the sisters, but in a brotherly sort of way.”
These books are charming and interesting. The two characters have a voice and a personality that are engaging. Hopefully, people will be drawn to find out more about the early history of this great nation.