Alyssa Cole’s acclaimed, groundbreaking Loyal League series is among the very best the romance genre has to offer. It’s only fitting that the final installment, An Unconditional Freedom, continues that literary excellence with a complicated, sweeping love story. Daniel Cumberland, a free black man who was kidnapped and enslaved, has haunted both of the series’ previous novels. After being liberated by his first love, Elle Burns, and her husband Malcolm, Daniel joins the Loyal League in search of revenge. Janeta Sanchez is forced to join the same group—but as a double agent. Her father has been imprisoned, and her Confederate lover pressures her to help the cause in order to save her family. When Janeta and Daniel are paired together for a dangerous mission, they must face down their respective secrets and trauma in order to have a chance at happiness with each other. We talked to Cole about the real-life figures that inspired both Janeta and Daniel, the psychological effects of slavery and what comes next.
Was there a real-life inspiration behind the character of Daniel Cumberland?
He was partially inspired by Solomon Northup, of Twelve Years a Slave fame, and the fact that the psychological effects of brutal enslavement are often overlooked or downplayed. Like, “And then they were free!” But what then?
When you first started writing, did you ever see yourself penning a novel set in this particular era?
Not at all, but when the idea for An Extraordinary Union came to me, I had to write it, even if it didn’t lead to anything!
What is your favorite genre to read? What drew you to write in the romance genre?
Romance of course, which is the best because it’s basically every kind of genre fiction but with a happy ending. Knowing that everything will work out in the end, and seeing how the author makes me think it won’t work in the end, is my favorite kind of reading experience. I also read comics/graphic novels, YA and a little of everything else.
Your prolific book list includes a range of geographic areas and times. What eras have you not yet covered in your novels that you would like to travel to through your fiction?
If you can think of an era, I have a story I want to set in it, lol. What I’ll have time to write is the main issue.
The juxtaposition of Janeta Sanchez and Daniel Cumberland goes beyond their differing attitudes and missions, but Janeta eventually realizes that in certain areas during this time, she is lumped into the same category as other people of color and inevitably endangered. In your research, what did you unearth about Latinx peoples who traveled to America at this time? Were any of their stories the inspiration for Janeta?
Janeta was very loosely inspired by Loreta Janeta Velaquez, a Cuban spy for the Confederacy—who was proud to support them. She was a very different person than my Janeta, who is biracial and was sheltered and cut off from her African heritage, and who eventually finds a cause she believes in—the Union. There were Cubans who fought for both sides during the war.
It’s clear that Daniel’s mental health has understandably deteriorated after being enslaved, and he has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Janeta’s flashbacks and thoughts center around situations that border on assault and inappropriate conduct as well, and it’s a known fact that rape and violence were ever-present during this time. How important do you feel talking about mental health is for romance authors and authors in general, regardless of the time period they write in? The mental health of female characters, in particular?
I think it’s important, but not necessary in every book. I address mental health in some way in many of my books, but not every story has to touch on it. It depends on the characters and their situations, and what readers might need from that story.
Speaking of different types of trauma, Janeta often reflects on her difficult family life, and her taxing relationship with her loved ones. Do you think she ever reunites with her Papi? Or has she moved on, and become a Sanchez in her own right by pursuing her own goals?
I think she’d see her father at some point if she could; most people find it very hard to just cut off their parents. I do think she would be building her own family with Daniel and her fellow detectives though.
Janeta and Daniel’s bond with Moses is particularly endearing. Does he join their little family? What’s next for Janeta and Daniel?
Moses is eventually reunited with his parents, at the end of the war. ☺
What’s next for you and your writing? For this series?
I’m currently working on a fun sci-fi romance for Audible, a couple of secret projects, and then the Runaway Royals, a spin off of the Reluctant Royals series (contemporary romantic comedy). This is the end of the Loyal League series, for now at least!
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of An Unconditional Freedom.