Unlike another recent work of fiction about the filles du roi, Suzanne Desrochers’ gritty, unsentimental Bride of New France (2011), Aimie K. Runyan emphasizes the role of community and the enduring power of women’s friendships. Her three heroines are sympathetic and appealing.
The novel opens in 1667. Elisabeth Martin, a talented baker, sees Quebec as her best hope for a fresh beginning after her mother arranges an unpleasant marriage for her after her father’s death. She finds what seems an ideal match. Her storyline grows progressively more intriguing as her marriage endures some rough spots, and she gets caught up in legal entanglements surrounding her past.
The abuse that Rose Barré, a fellow Parisian in service at the Salpêtrière Hospital, had suffered in her uncle’s household makes her fear marriage, and modern readers should find her tentative journey toward recovery relatable. The third friend, Nicole Deschamps, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, chooses a handsome officer from a remote homestead as her husband. While Luc does care for Nicole, her story exemplifies the risks her countrywomen took in tying themselves to men they barely knew.
As the three settle into their new lives, and their home in the Canadian wilderness grows into a full-fledged town, their connection remains solid. Injecting some conflict into their relationship would have shown even more character development, but the novel does a commendable job showing how women’s friendships were tied to their physical and emotional survival in their new home.
This is the first in a trilogy, and the latter portion of the book appears to head into saga territory, carrying the tale into the next generation (the King’s Daughters’ daughters). It also promises more First Nations content, which should add even more realistic atmosphere to this engagingly written, warmhearted historical fiction series.
Promised to the Crown was published by Kensington on April 26th ($15, 352pp).