After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.
When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne’s brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?
With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king’s mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.
Once all the girls from Salpêtrière had taken their positions with the women, a man in a richly embroidered silk waistcoat stepped into the open middle aisle and clapped twice for attention.
“My name is Nicolas Picard, and I represent the Company of the Indies. It is our duty and pleasure to bring colonists to Louisiana under the authority of the illustrious John Law. You may have seen the broadsides and tracts advertising the colony–”
Across from Julianne, many of the men shook their heads. Little wonder. If they were poor plucked from the city’ streets, as they looked to be, very likely they were also illiterate.
Monsieur Picard recovered himself. “Forgive me. I forget I’m addressing prisoners.”
Julianne squinted at the men’s tattered clothing. Were those prison uniforms? She’d never seen a male prisoner before, let alone scores of them. He stomach rolled at the realization that she may share the same ship to Louisiana with them.
“Louisiana offers much to be desired,” Picard was saying. “Gold and silver just waiting to be mined. The land abounds in game, and the soil is a miracle of fertility. Your new life there will agree with you, I assure you. As we speak, the carts outside are being loaded with new clothes and provisions for your voyage. Each couple will also receive a dowry of three hundred livres upon arrival.”
Murmurs rippled through the nave. Strangers whispered to each other, “Does he mean for us to marry in Louisiana as soon as we land?”
“You will settle the land for France together. Be fruitful and multiply in the name of King Louis XV. The sooner, so much the better.”
The nave buzzed. Gasps broke from young orphans who had never seen a man outside of the clergy. Some men grinned and laughed, winking brazenly across the nave at the scandalized and the willing alike. Pauper girls plucked from the streets clutched the hands near theirs and muttered their defiance.
Picard raised his arms. “Silence! I will have order! You will not leave this church until we accomplish one sacred act.” He lowered his arms to his sides and leveled his gaze at the women. “Girls, on my command, you will cross the room and choose for yourselves a husband. Do it silently; I must have order. You will all be wed within the hour.”
Panic cycled up Julianne’s spine and snatched her breath away, even as she uttered a silent prayer for help. Choosing a groom at a moment’s notice, without passing a single word – how in heaven’s name could it be done?
I love learning history through fiction, so this novel went on my TBR list as soon as it made a blip on my radar. And in no way did it disappoint! It is impossible not to get caught up in Julianne’s story from the moment she finds herself wrongfully convicted, through to her forced marriage, and then the trials she endures once she reaches Louisiana – both physical and emotional. And it’s beautifully written, in such a way that the words themselves fade into the background and you become immersed in the details and emotion of the story.
And what a story it is. The reality of Louisiana is far different from what was promised, and rebellion is in the air for Europeans and natives alike. Food shortages, mosquito-born illness, and tropical weather are just some of the physical hardships confronting them. But it was Julianne’s emotional journey that really kept me hooked into the story. Forced to wed a stranger – a fellow convict – she struggles to save her new husband from himself even before they reach their destination. But nothing prepares her for the heartbreak and test of loyalties that awaits her on Louisiana’s far shores.
It’s difficult to say much more without giving spoilers, but there is a beautiful quote that captures the heart of Julianne’s emotional journey: “We all have scars, my beautiful one. They make us who we are, and if we let them, they bring us together.” It is a difficult – and at times agonising – journey before Julianne can truly rest in that truth, but it is illustrated beautifully in this novel, perhaps most poignantly in Julianne’s relationship with the young half native/half French girl, Lily. However I will leave you to discover that for yourself.
And just a warning: The last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. It took me completely by surprise, and I’m telling you now, you will not want to put it down – especially since you will be holding your breath until you reach the end!
If you love historical fiction with a compelling character journey, this is a novel you really shouldn’t pass up. And there is a beautiful element of romance to sweeten the deal. What more could a history lover ask for?
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review.
Release date: 3 January 2017
Publisher: Bethany House
Author’s website: http://www.jocelyngreen.com/
The author, Jocelyn Green, has a fantastic giveaway over on her website. Have a look at what you could win!
If you’d like to be in with a chance to win, clicking on the above image will take you to Jocelyn’s webpage where you can enter the competition. Good luck! Or perhaps I should say ‘Bonne chance!’
PS – If you want some help pronouncing some of the names and places in the novel, Jocelyn Green made this fun and handy little video to help. See how well you do!