Founding Mothers of New France – Review of “Duty to the Crown” by Aimie K. Runyan

“Duty to the Crown” moved Aimie K. Runyan to my personal list of Favorite Authors, edging out some of the best living writers in the western world. Understandably, my opinion is based on my personal reading experiences which some may consider too limited to be of real value. But I say toe-may-toe, you say toe-mah-toe.

The Huron girl Manon again plays a pivotal role in Book two of the Daughters of New France as she reaches marriageable age. But Manon continues her quest for knowledge even as she questions her place in the world. She feels isolated and out of place by the covert shunning in French society circles in which the Lefebvres,  her adoptive parents move and she is openly shunned by her native Huron tribe because of her western clothes and manners. In her isolation, Manon turns to the two friends who are sisters of her heart – Claudine and Gabriel.

Claudine is French-born with visions of attracting a wealthy suitor whose reputation will obscure her humble beginnings as a farmer’s daughter. She’s flighty, self-absorbed, and contemptuous of the working class. But her sisters love her in spite of her selfish attitudes. And then there’s Gabriel, daughter of the town drunk. With a background like that, she doesn’t expect to attract any man worth more than a sou and she fears being forced into marriage by a New France edict requiring native-born daughters to marry at age 16. This seems horribly unfair since Claudine and her sister Emmanuel are not subject to the same requirement, simply because they are French-born. But these three women who are little more than children, are called upon by forces that test their mettle in life and in love, as well as their hopes and dreams. Their success in this new world will require all the courage and inner strength they can muster. Are Manon, Claudine and Gabriel up to the task?

Three unlikely friends who are closer than sisters are each faced with life-altering events that affect each other and everyone around them. The three girls are united by the societal restrictions that effectively manipulate them like marionettes. How they react and respond to the Crown’s expectations, their families’ demands and the inherent dangers that lie in wait for these innocent and unsuspecting girls as they teeter on the edge of femininity is the heart of this compelling sequel to “Promised to the Crown”. Their lives and loves and the giddy happiness of youth are tainted by the impending tragedy and sorrow that each will be faced with almost as a rite of passage to their coming-of-age.

Historical fiction doesn’t get much better than what Aimee K. Runyan serves up here. It started a bit slow for this reader as it laid the necessary groundwork for those who haven’t read Book one, but even so, there were some new revelations for the rest of us. Runyan’s extensive research into 17th Century New France, now known as Quebec, makes the story come alive. The reader can feel the tension between the settlers and the native Huron tribe, each distrustful of the other because of their cultural differences and how those differences are manifested in Manon’s thoughts and subsequent actions. It plays upon her self-doubt and dread of not being accepted by either society.

Both Claudine and Gabriel are sorely tested, albeit in differing ways, but with a brutality and tragedy that would bring many a strong man to his knees. However, these two are stronger than even they realize and more importantly, they are survivors. How they handle their losses and heartbreak is admirable and wholly believable. There was nary an eye roll from me throughout the 354 pages. But there were two nights of very little sleep because, as cliche as this may sound, I could not put it down.

Runyan’s writing is prose at its shining best. The characters are so well written they feel like family and friends. We suffer with them through their trials and tribulations, applaud their successes and rejoice in their happiness. And Runyan’s descriptions of the physical properties of the New World are so vivid we can see the lush greens of the forest and the colors of the ripening wheat fields and even smell the open wood fires on which the Huron heat their longhouses and cook their meals.

Runyan excels in her portrayals of women that we would otherwise know nothing or very little of were it not for her diligent research and storytelling expertise. She is a skilled writer who makes her characters come to life in the pages of her books, which is the hallmark of a truly gifted writer. Five stars.

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New France Founding Mothers

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