Martel, Suzanne. The King’s Daughter (1998 ed.) 231 Pages. Groundwood Books. $14.95*
The year is 1672. Eighteen-year-old Jeanne Chatel has just been chosen as a “king’s daughter,” one of the hundreds of young women sent by the French government to become the brides of farmers, soldiers, and trappers in the North American wilderness.
Orphaned at age ten, Jeanne has been raised in a convent. But with her independent spirit, she doesn’t hesitate to the opportunity to go to New France, as Quebec was then known. Wildly romantic, she conjurs up a new life full of adventure.
Upon her arrival in New France, Jeanne’s romantic dreams are soon cast aside, and she learns to be practical and realistic in this wild new country where death stalks the settlers every day. Life is not easy: her new husband is not the dashing military man she has dreamed of, but a trapper with two young children who lives in a small cabin in the woods. Proud and aloof, he is still grief-stricken over the death of his first wife and a child at the hands of the Iroqu0is. Alone much of the time, Jeanne faces danger daily, but the courage and determination that brought her to this wild place never fail her, and she soon learns to be truly at home in her new land.
“A king’s daughter! I’m a king’s daughter!”
Closing the parlour door without a sound, as she had been taught, Jeanne repeated the magic words that had just changed her life. Her heart was beating wildly. She pressed both hands to her chest as her thin face relaxed into an unguarded smile.
Sometimes books you loved as a child stand up to the test of time and re-reads, and sometimes they don’t. Thankfully, this book was not a disappointment ten years later. I am not quite as blindly adoring as I was then, but I still enjoyed it.
Jeanne is a spirited young girl; she was raised by her poacher grandfather, and when he died she was forced into convent life, something she did not take to. With a bit of luck, Jeanne finds herself presented with an opportunity for adventure; she has been chosen to go to New France and marry a man in need of a wife. Her younger “sister” Marie is coming along as well, which means that Jeanne will have company for at least the voyage.
Things progress rapidly, and there is a lot of things we are told rather than shown. I prefer books which spend more time showing you character traits than telling you about them. I also prefer books which do not cram two years of marriage into about 100 pages. However, that is likely because I am an adult now, and am used to romance novels, where characters spend time wooing each other.
There is little romance between Jeanne and Simon; he is domineering and demanding, accustomed to being followed. She is young and spirited, unaccustomed to bending to others wills. However, she is married to the man, and she adores his children; she sees in them a chance to make someone’s life good, and fill it with love. On top of that, Jeanne desperately craves love and acceptance, so she is determined to create a family out of the group she has collected.
There is a little to be said about language here. It is translated, so it isn’t exactly what the author wrote. The gist is still there, but translation is as much art as science. This is a revised version which has been edited for some content. According to the publisher’s note it was because: “The King’s Daughter was first published in 1974; the first English edition was published in 1980. When the book was written and translated into English, a number of terms were used to describe native people which today are considered offensive. In this new edition we have tried to remove that offensive language.” I don’t know what they said, because I’ve never read an un-revised version. There are still comments about the red-skinned natives, and Jeanne is called a “pale face” at one point. There is a lot of tension between native tribes and the French colonizers, but that’s sort of to be expected if you’ve ever had a North American history class. This book is historical, but it’s not 100% historically accurate. In the end, it’s a story made up by an author with a bit of research, and it’s meant to be fun.
As a grown-up reading it, I would ask for a bit more. More details, more story, more pages. It still earns a 4.5/5 because it was a fun read.
* The price printed on the cover is $14.95, but it seemingly hasn’t been in print for a while, so you can get it secondhand for <$5.