Originally published in French as Jeanne, Fille du Roi, this is another work of young-adult historical fiction I’ve loved for years, although I was older when I read this one — probably 19 or 20. It’s aimed at teenaged readers, but I enjoyed rereading it just as much as I enjoyed it the first time.
Jeanne Chatel is an eighteen-year-old French orphan who is sent to New France (Canada) as a “King’s daughter” — basically, mail-order brides for the soldiers and trappers who settled this land back in the 1600s. Jeanne is strong-willed, spunky, and resourceful — all qualities that cause the nuns who raised her to despair, but which are going to stand her in good stead in this harsh new land.
Jeanne’s unfolding relationship with her new husband, Simon, follows every romance-novel cliche in the book — she dislikes him at first sight, he’s handsome but haughty and distant, and even when they begin to fall in love they are kept apart by various emotional hang-ups, including Jeanne’s jealousy of Simon’s dead wife. However, it’s such an appealing romance and they’re such great characters that I was easily able to forgive the cliches because I was really rooting for Simon and Jeanne to get past their issues and have a happy marriage.
Images of Native Canadians are also somewhat stereotypical here, but Martel does a fabulous job of capturing the feel of a time so remote from ours. She does particularly well, I think, at giving us a sense of the precariousness of life and all human happiness in that kind of world. After a near-tragedy the book ends happily — but Jeanne explains frankly in a letter to a friend that their happiness is all about living in the moment, since they know they could be murdered by Iroquois any day. This was one of several books on my “old favourites” list that have retained their power to make me cry a little … and that’s high praise.