Duty to the Crown
It’s May 1677 outside the Quebec Settlement, New France, in the Canadian colonies. Told through three alternating characters, the story begins with Manon, a Huron girl, as she gathers herbs on a white man’s land to help her ailing brother, Tawendeh. Threatened by a farmer who accuses her of trespassing, she goes to the home of Nicole Lefebvre, who raised Manon in her early years. In the next chapter, we meet Claudine, Nicole’s sister, who dreams of marrying a wealthy man who will take her back to Paris and make her a fine woman. When Claudine accompanies Nicole to Manon’s longhouse in the Huron village, in order to take herbs and supplies to nurse the sick there, Claudine thinks ahead to her entrance into formal society, her coming-out ball in fancy dress. Then we meet Gabrielle, the seamstress who works on Claudine’s gown. We learn that Gabrielle is pressed to find a husband, since the local edict requires her adoptive parents to pay a fine if she does not marry by age 16.
The novel weaves the lives of these three women together as they find love, disappointment, and tragedy in New France. Around them the society grows and prospers in the new land, and we see the meshing of cultures as the Huron and white settlers slowly accept one another’s differences. With the many setting details and lovely descriptions of everyday life, the reader is treated to a picture of what it must have been like to reach maturity in such a world. It is a novel of both love and loss, and we come away in admiration for the women striving despite mistreatment and abandonment. I found myself sorry when I reached the end of the book, since Manon, Claudine, and Gabrielle had become like good friends of mine.