Louisiana in the early years of the 18th century; this is a novel about the French settlers who attempted to carve out their own land from this huge, hostile territory. Elisabeth Savaret, a bookish orphan, is one of a boatload of unmarried women shipped to the colonial lands to seek a husband in the male-dominated colony. There she is selected by the Canadian ensign Jean-Claude Babelon, and much to Elisabeth’s surprise she falls completely in love with him. A boy not yet in his teens, Auguste Guichard is making the journey across the Atlantic. His intelligence and skill in languages are used by the colony’s governor to develop relations with the native tribes. He becomes very friendly with Babelon and his wife, and this is where the trouble starts.
The bare outline of the plot does not, however, do any sort of justice to the appeal of this novel. Clare Clark’s lush descriptions of the hostile, overbearingly hot climate, and the struggles of the city-dwelling colonist to settle and scrape a life that is not wholly desperate in the nascent developments of Mobile and New Orleans, are both beautiful and intelligent, and precisely observed. At a time when Western economies are examining their propensity to chase profit and growth at whatever cost to society and the environment, the author examines here the impact that the demand for commercial exploitation has on the native Americans and on relations between men and women.
My only concern is division of the novel into two parts – the second part seems to start as the first did, and it takes the reader some time to get back into the plot again. This is Clare Clark’s third novel, all of which have been historical. I have read the other two and I consider this her best.