Bride of New France tells the story of the filles du roi - the King's Daughters. In 1659 France is acting on the King's decree to "clean the streets". Clean the streets of the poor, the destitute, the beggars - "...troublesome sights for the young King and his regents". Seven year old Laure Beausejour is taken from her family and placed in the Salpêtriére Hospital - a building that housed prostitutes, criminals, the insane and the poor. It is here that Laure works in a dimly lit sewing room producing lace. She dreams of one day leaving, opening her own business and getting married.
She does get to leave, but not in the manner she had planned. The King is eager to populate New France - the French colony in Canada. In 1669 Laure and her friend Madeleine are chosen to be sent to Canada as brides for the male colonists and to produce children. Rumours of life in New France tell of a terrible climate and danger from all sides. They turn out to not be rumours.
I enjoy reading historical fiction, but this was even more of a treat as it was Canadian. Names and events brought to mind history lessons learned long ago. But Desrochers does more than bring it to mind - she brings it to life. The settings are full of fact based details that paint a vivid picture of both France and Canada. Desrochers' academic background in history serves her well. But it is the character of Laure I became so engrossed in. Her life in Salpêtriére is harsh, yet she dreams of something better and a future. When confronted with the brutal life that is New France, she still does not give in, despite being driven to the edge.
The first half of the book, in France, involves more detail and serves almost as set up for the Canadian part of the novel. Desrochers surprised me here - Laure's character does not follow the path I expected. Her choices lead to some interesting plot lines and an ending I didn't expect. My only criticism - I wanted more of the Canadian life. The focus is on Laure, but I was interested in some of the secondary characters as well. Madame Rouillard, the bar owner/midwife has stories of her own to tell. And I'm curious as to what was in store for Laure after the book ended.
A fascinating historical read about a period and place not as well documented as the English settlements. I look forward to more fiction from Suzanne Desrochers.
Suzanne will be stopping by for some Q&A in the near future!