We’re back for another book review on Saturday; the novel for today is one that’s been sitting on my kindle bookshelf for a while. Now that we’re in quarantine, I figured what better time to start the first one in the trilogy? So, without further delay, let’s dive into Melissa de la Cruz’s amazing historical fiction novel, Alex & Eliza.
Melissa de la Cruz is a talented author who’s released many books that have climbed, and remained on, the New York Times bestseller list for upwards of fifty weeks at a time. Her novels expand over thirty, and she has shown her talents by writing not just for YA, but also for adults, which one can see in her Witches of East End series; the story has since received a television adaptation. Cruz was originally from Manila and moved to California as a child with her parents. Her novel Alex & Eliza tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler taking place in 1780.
Side Note: This review won’t feature spoilers to the plot, but it well have a few quotes from Alex & Eliza.
I’m going to be honest here. My knowledge on history is very little so whenever I can get my hands on a historical fiction novel, I devour every word within. As a writer, I’m constantly looking to expand my world, not just is the technical aspects, but in the emotional/humanities aspect too, which entails knowledge on knowledge of anything and everything I can get my hands on. If you’re the same way, I can guarantee that you’ll love this novel. I always hear about things pertaining to Hamilton the Broadway show; I had seen no appeal, then again I never researched the story line. Broadway was never my thing, I mean sure, I’d like to catch a show there someday because it’s on my bucket list, but it was never an immediate craving of mine. Now that I’ve read Alex & Eliza, I see the appeal in going to this show.
While I wouldn’t say Alex & Eliza is my favorite story, I will say that Cruz’s use of descriptions, combined with an expert retelling of historical events, is one that blew me away. She uses words like a skillful blade, cutting through the reader’s imagination, carving out beautiful depictions of settings and characters. Writers, take note because if you want to capture your reader through description, this is how.
“So, five years ago, when a hurricane had loomed out of the Atlantic like a great dark wall, its storm-force winds pushing twenty- and thirty-foot waves before it like a child’s hand splashing drops across a pond, there was a part of Alex that hoped the storm would sweep away the entire island and cleanse it of its terrible deeds. Buildings collapsed like playing-card houses, hundred-year-old trees were blown away like dandelion fluff, and the ten-foot-tall cane stalks disappeared beneath floods that swept in with the ferocity of a pouncing lion. When the winds and floods retreated, carnage as far as the eye could see was left behind.” — Alex & Eliza
Not only are we left with a breathtaking image, we’re given these mixed emotions of sympathy and terror as we watch the scene play out as if it were happening before our very eyes. Cruz uses a great mix of similes and metaphors, helping the reader to connect these disturbing scenes that, to some, may be unfamiliar, morphing them into familiar things such as a child’s hand, playing card houses, and dandelion fluff (I don’t know about you, but I’ve blown on many dandelions making a wish). This is how you hook your reader; by connecting the unfamiliar familiar things in their life.
These descriptions are my favorite feature out of this entire novel, because it’s what I used to connect myself to the history. It’s how I became so invested because, while I enjoyed and fell in love with the characters, it was the research and facts put through the descriptions that made it so much more realistic. I guess you could say it was the cherry on top of the ice cream.
“The powdered head turned and tilted upward. A lean face, impossibly young, looked up at hers. It was a sharp face, with a wolf’s sly intelligence. Long, straight nose, bright blue eyes. The most uncanny feature, however, had to be the eyebrows. For some reason, Eliza had always thought Alexander Hamilton would be dark-haired, but he was in fact a ginger and one who seemed to have a perpetual look of mischief on his face, even now, after he had just had his own head served to him on a platter. The rumors were right: Alexander Hamilton was terribly handsome.” — Alex & Eliza
Okay, can we please talk about this utter beauty, and the thrill that goes through our spines from reading this? We’re introduced to Alexander Hamilton through Eliza’s first thoughts of him. Cruz paints this amazing image of the colonel in our minds, but it’s that last line, “The rumors were right: Alexander Hamilton was terribly handsome.” that gives us what we’re looking for. I don’t know about you, but the entire time I read this passage, my smile grew larger and larger. We get this slight surprise from Eliza over seeing this man who she thought would look different, while also getting a little taste of lust, which leads us to have a better idea of Eliza; though we already get a thorough sense of her character thanks to the preceding chapters.
Speaking on characters, let’s dive into the second best part of this story; the stars of the novel, Alex and Eliza. For those of you who don’t know the tale, Eliza Schuyler was a lady from a well-bred background coming in as the second eldest daughter of the Schuyler family. With the family being in heavy financial trouble, it was expected of the three eldest daughters (Angelica, Elizabeth, and Margarita (Peggy)) to marry and bring wealth back to the family before the situation could be known.
Alexander (Alex) Hamilton was a colonel in the army, and aides-de-camp to general Washington. While he had high standing and was well regarded by most everyone, he held no real wealth, which posed a problem when he and Elizabeth inevitably fall in love with one another.
Both characters are unique, fun, and easy to become invested in from the moment one begins following their story. Eliza is wholly patriotic and stubborn, refusing to give up, yet her caring side also leads to loyalty and gives her character good internal struggle towards the end of the novel when the major conflict of the first book rears its hideous head.
Eliza Frowned, unwilling to give in. “It’s not right. For the past year I have spent all my time canvassing the ladies of Albany to spend less on themselves and more on the war effort. If I appear in a gown as sumptuous as this, they’ll think I’m a hypocrite.” — Eliza, Alex & Eliza
Just from this sentence we can gauge Eliza’s character. The dialogue perfectly matches her upbringing of a well-read woman from a higher standing in society. She also shows her strong moral beliefs and yearning to put everything she can into the war efforts. I doubt I’m the only one here when I say I absolutely love Eliza’s challenging personality. Every time she stood up against someone, using a large vocabulary and sharp tongue to shut them down, I whooped in joy because, man, were those times satisfying to read. In this book at least, Eliza appears in my eyes as a strong advocate for women’s rights, because she’s someone who doesn’t easily back down, going so far as to say she isn’t a fox when Dot, a worker to the family, says that it’s husband season, liking the men to hounds.
On the flip side, we have the dashing colonel Hamilton who is sweet as can be. Who else swooned over the man every time he showed up? I mean, God, can any other guy be as sweet? (Okay, I know, when compared to Jamie from Outlander, the Scottish lad still wins). Anywho, the point still stands, Hamilton is absolutely in my top 5 fiction guys who are over the moon swoon worthy, I mean, he writers poetry and letters like an authoric God, and yes that’s now a word, let it be known here.
“Beloved by you, I can be happy in any situation, and I can struggle with every embarrassment of fortune with patience and firmness. I cannot however forbear entreating you to realize our union on the dark side and satisfy, without deceiving yourself, how far your elegancies to which you have been accustomed. If fortune should smile upon us, it will do us no harm to have been prepared for adversity; if she frowns upon us, by being prepared, we shall encounter it without the chagrin of dissappointment. Your future rank in life is a perfect lottery; you may move in an exalted you may move in a very humble sphere; the last is most probable; examine well your heart.” — Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, August 1780
Take notes, writers, because if you want to write a historical fiction novel from this timeline, that’s how a well-established man of the time could speak. Keep in mind, though, that Hamilton was rather well versed in the written word as he was in charge of all correspondences from Washington to others of high standing around the world. Besides this, Cruz keeps the entire novel true to these characters. The voice she gives Hamilton follows that of this letter to a T, and it makes for an enticing and fun read, because the two challenge each other and have many fun-to-read back-and-forth conversations with one another. It makes me rather excited to continue onto the second book in the series.
I could go on and on with all the other impressive aspects of the novel, the third favorite being the dialogue because, come on, who else couldn’t get enough of the Schuyler sisters in action? That chapter when they out Hamilton at the party had me laughing so hard I was on the brink of tears. It’s moments like this in dialogue that I strive to achieve as a writer and always keep on the lookout for in other novels that I pick up. If you’re interested in investigating the series, you can check out the first book on Amazon. If you’re curious about the author, check out Melissa de la Cruz via her author page! That’s all for now.
All the best.