The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

The Blurb On The Back:

He is the son of tragedy

Born a bastard and raised an orphan in the stifling Caribbean heat.  Alexander Hamilton will prove his worth on the blood-soaked battlefields of the American Revolution.

She is the daughter of fortune

A wealthy child of privilege, Elizabeth Shuyler has never wanted for anything.  But she longs for a life of so much more.

War will bring them together; peace will tear them apart

In her, Hamilton finds the extraordinary intelligence and passionate heart that will motivate him to revolutionise American politics … and go down in history as one of the great Founding Fathers of the bold new country.

In him, Eliza finds a man who is finally, truly, her equal – someone who will inspire her to dedicate her life to a cause much greater than herself.

And history will make them immortal

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 1768 and 11 year-old Alexander Hamilton lives in the Danish colony of St Croix with his older brother James, their divorced mother Rachel and the family’s slave, Ajax.  Together they run a small store but the scandal surrounding Alexander’s mother means that Alexander and his brother are regarded as bastards by the rest of the community.  With his sharp memory and intellect, Alexander dreams of better things but has no idea that tragedy will set him on a course for America where he will play a major part in the foundation of a new nation …

Meanwhile in 1770 Elizabeth Schuyler is the second of six children, living an idyllic childhood in a large estate in Saratoga, New York with her father, Philip (a colonel in the English army) and Dutch mother, Catherine.  Elizabeth does not share her elder sister Angelica’s interest in men and cannot imagine getting married.  But as the colonies’ anger against Britain increases and the situation descends into rebellion, her father’s role in the war will bring her into contact with the dashing Colonel Hamilton and realises that he is a man she cannot live without.

Together Eliza and Alexander will make their mark on the fledgling United States but history is not always kind to the victors and their marriage will be tested by the demands of the new nation, political rivalries and other temptations …

Elizabeth Cobbs’s historical romance is an episodic affair that gives a straightforward biographical account of the couple, which should appeal to fans of the Hamilton musical but there’s little emotional insight here – particularly regarding his affair with Maria Reynolds and blackmail by her husband and his rivalry with Aaron Burr, James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson – and I don’t think it adds anything to understanding either person.

Cobbs adopts a linear imagining of the lives of Alexander and Eliza, jumping into different months and years as she sets out their respective upbringings and characters, which maintains pace but does make the read feel very episodic.  She’s clearly done a lot of research on the couple, using their own words at times together with other writing for the period, which helps to create a sense of period.  There’s also an author’s note at the end where she sets out what she has fictionalised, and for me, I can see why she made those choices and I think they do add to the story.  Unfortunately some modern colloquialisms did slip into the dialogue at times (most notably the word “alright”), which threw me out of some scenes.

Cobbs also does a good job of creating a sense of who Eliza and Alexander were and I also think she did well at setting out the background to the revolution and the problems of building the subsequent republic.  However I never really got a sense of understanding as to what made either person tick and at times their motivations and actions were a little two dimensional, especially in the case of Alexander’s affair where I never got a sense of why he would risk everything for this uneducated woman or why he would pay off her husband (Cobbs summarises it as sexual desire for a younger, beautiful woman but there’s no sense of men’s view of affairs and women at this time or why Alexander would do it given his own family history).  Similarly, Cobbs frames Hamilton’s political rivalries with Jefferson, Monroe and Burr in terms of the early political struggle but there’s little real sense of the personalities involved here beyond broad sketches and she takes a very pro-Hamilton approach in her depiction of those men and their motivation.

Ultimately, if you’re happy to read a fictionalised biography, then you’ll get a lot from this book but if you’re looking for a fictional account that deepens and adds to your understanding of the couple and their marriage, then I don’t think you’ll find anything extra here.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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