Louis XIV knew he must send healthy young women of good moral fiber to populate his Canadian settlement known as New France and to accomplish this he used the church to select suitable candidates for this important task. Getting there was half the battle as the young women left comfortable homes in France to embark on a sea voyage to reach this new world. Their duty to the Crown was to marry and procreate so as to establish a new future generation of loyal citizenry. Thus the title of this saga, “Promised to the Crown”, Aimie K. Runyan’s debut novel.
On the sea voyage to the new colony we meet three of the prospective brides, Elizabeth, Rose and Nicole, all from very different backgrounds. Elizabeth the daughter of a baker, quickly accepts a proposal from Gilbert Beaumont, also a baker. Then there is Rose who would prefer to take vows in the church rather than marry, as she hopes to erase the emotional scars from sexual abuse by a family member. There is no way to sugar coat that experience but she catches the eye of Henri, a kind and gentle man, a second son with no inheritance from a wealthy family. Last is Nicole, a farmer’s daughter who is noticed by the wealthiest landowner in the territory, Alexandre Lefebvre. These three women will face enormous challenges but the close bonds they’ve formed with each other will help them through the harsh environment as well as the societal changes of New France. But as survivors, they will rise and meet the challenges.
As a debut novel, Runyan’s choice is an admirable undertaking. Just thinking of the enormous amount of research it required gives me a headache. The narrative is delivered from the three points of view of Rose, Elizabeth and Nicole, so the reader sees the same events three different ways. With their strengths and weaknesses on display I was puzzled by Nicole’s resentment of Alexandre’s money and influence. She kept it mostly covert but that did nothing to reduce the vehemence of it. Yes, she was a farmer’s daughter yet he wasn’t unkind and did nothing to belittle her and in fact seemed to enjoy giving her nice things. A bit of a puzzle that never gets solved to my satisfaction.
As a reader I admit to my ignorance of the history of what is now Quebec. Of course I’ve always known it’s mainly a French-speaking province but I had no idea why nor any prior knowledge of the story of this group of courageous women. But Runyan is a masterful storyteller and I am looking forward to Book two in the Daughters of New France Series. Four stars.
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