Back in May last year my friends and I got cheap tickets to Hamilton this February, which was the best way to celebrate the new year. However, riding the hype, I decided to try this novel and was bitterly disappointed.
The novel endeavours to cover a bit of the story that the musical barely touches on: Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton getting together. It follows their courting, Alex’s struggle with his work and Eliza’s need to aid the war effort, all only briefly touched on in the play.
“The practical girl who would not settle for less than a love story for the ages found the life long romance she had yearned for all her life.“
My first problem with this novel was the characters. Eliza was such a Mary Sue- smart, kind, beautiful (despite her humble dress, of course), incredible at anything she takes her hand to- from horse riding to administering medication, and just all round amazing. As the narrator and protagonist, she was exceptionally dull. I understand that the author didn’t want to sully the name of this quite impressive American heroine but she could have made her a little less pretentious and cut the “she’s different to every other girl” cliché.
Alex felt like he could have been an interesting character, and I know he was very striking in real life, but little of the novel was dedicated to his character development outside of his relationship with Eliza. Which was fine, I understand this novel is meant to be Eliza’s turn in the spotlight, although Alex showed more character development throughout the course of the novel than she did. The side characters showed more potential- I enjoyed Angelica’s sass and Aunt Gurtrude’s fierce personality, it was just a shame Eliza shared little of these traits and showed no character development because, of course, she was already perfect.
“I like to think I’m not like other girls” – Eliza
The setting of the novel was the 1780s when Eliza went to stay with her aunt Gertrude. Not knowing much about the time period I don’t know how accurate the descriptions were, although Eliza and Hamilton do go to all the places described in the novels and the events are vaguely chronological to her actual history. I can’t say much for the authenticity of the setting, but if anyone is big on American history reading this I’d quite like to know.
The ‘world building’ could have been better incorporated into the actual story- the reader is presented with full on chapters of the history of the revolution which could have been given in a more entertaining and digestible way, like characters discussing the past or diary notes. However I enjoyed how much background was given and understood Hamilton’s life in the Caribbean a lot more from its explanation in this novel than its portrayal in the musical, which is very brief.
“Mark my words, Alex. You are a man whose future lies before him for all to marvel at one day“
What upset me most about this novel was the plot. The author has clearly researched the topic: she puts paragraphs and paragraphs of historical fact, goes into minute details about battles and onto long tangents on the history of Eliza’s family, yet the entire plot was made up. The tensions in the novel have no historical basis and, rather than use the research to tell the story, the author has taken the wealth of history she’s learnt, dumped it in the novel and then written her own story on top of it, taking vague likenesses to historical figures.
You may wonder why I am so annoyed about this, and it’s not just the preservation of history my historian of a boyfriend has drummed into me. It’s because I researched Eliza’s history to write this review and it’s interesting. She deserves her own book, she spoke out against slavery, co founded an orphanage, studied all of Hamilton’s writing and her sister Peggy saved them all when the family home was attacked by red coats with a quick lie. She had an interesting life, and it’s understandably very glossed over in the musical, they do attempt to cover a complex history in just three hours. She deserves a novel, as the author says in her author’s notes, but a real one. One that properly tells Eliza’s history. I know there’s creative lisences but this really isn’t the point of historical fiction. It’s just the plot the author wanted to write, riding on the coat tails of a popular musical.
“And you, Colonel Hamilton, are mine, and I am yours always.“
The target audience for this novel was difficult to decipher. It didn’t appeal to the historian in me, curious to find out more about a history only briefly discussed in the musical, or the romantic. The romance in this novel was cheesy. The lines have been used over and over in romance novels and the acceptance of Hamilton by Eliza’s parents was very corny, it ended with Mrs Schuyler giving a speech about how she would be happy with her marrying Alex if it made her daughter happy. All very overdone and terribly corny.
Overall I wouldn’t recommend this novel. The characters were flat, the plot entirely fictional and the romance was substandard.