Bound for a new continent, and a new beginning.
In her illuminating debut novel, Aimie K. Runyan masterfully blends fact and fiction to explore the founding of New France through the experiences of three young women who, in 1667, answer Louis XIV’s call and journey to the Canadian colony.
They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters”—young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their duty is to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving—poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance of happiness.
Once in Quebec, Elisabeth quickly accepts baker Gilbert Beaumont, who wants a business partner as well as a wife. Nicole, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, marries a charming officer who promises comfort and security. Scarred by her traumatic past, Rose decides to take holy vows rather than marry. Yet no matter how carefully she chooses, each will be tested by hardship and heartbreaking loss—and sustained by the strength found in their uncommon friendship, and the precarious freedom offered by their new home.
I've read a few novels set in French Canada, or New France, as it was known back then, and it's a setting that really appeals to me, so I was looking forward to Promised to the Crown, especially since the focus is on the little-known story of the courageous women who ventured into the unknown to settle the colony for their king.
The story follows Rose as she decides to leave behind a life of service in a charity hospital in Paris for the chance of a brighter future, and Elisabeth and Nicole, two women she meets on the ocean crossing. All three settle in Quebec City and have each other to rely on as they establish their new lives. They and their fellow brides have no shortage of suitors to choose from, and Elisabeth and Nicole are soon paired off with young men who appeal to their hearts as well as their practical needs. But Rose is not as fortunate, realizing that she doesn't really want to be a wife and mother, and she contemplates a life devoted to God. Over the course of the next seven years, Rose, Elisabeth, and Nicole forge new paths for themselves. Far from their families, they form new ones, both with their husbands and with each other. Though they will face adversity, tragedy, and disaster, the strength of their friendship remains a constant in a shifting new world.
Unfortunately, this story didn't grab me as much as I'd hoped. For historical fiction, it feels rather light and superficial to me. It sort of reminded me of "chick lit" from time to time. Even though our heroines each have their share of hardship and heartbreak, the story quickly moves on and skips forward from one woman to the next, so we often miss important moments in their lives and learn about them after they happen. I didn't feel like I got to spend enough in-depth time with each heroine to truly form a connection with them. At times they exhibited more modern behavior, and most of the supporting characters were fairly one-dimensional. I also found it lacking in the deep sensory description that really brings a setting and time period to life.
This is by no means a bad book. It is getting rave reviews from others, so don't let me dissuade you from reading it if it piques your interest. It is ambitious in its structure and scope, and I was invested enough to keep reading to see what would happen, but it just doesn't quite reach the level of depth and substance or have that transporting effect that my favorite historical fiction has. But if you like strong female characters and are looking to try a different time period, Promised to the Crown may be worth checking out.
My Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
Promised to the Crown
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