“You are a child of the King; it is His image you bear. King Louis marked you with judgment, but the King of Kings covers you with grace. Whose mark will you now display?” These are the words the main character, Julianne, speaks to herself at the end of the book, when she’s come to a pivotal opportunity to either kill the man who has caused her grief over the course of the book, or save him. Her words epitomize the trajectory of the story: Julianne’s life in Paris, then in New Orleans, is marked by decisions she can base either on spite or divine love. We follow her dramatic adventure charting her course in a new territory, both geographically and in her heart.
Jocelyn Green’s historical fiction is based on the real story of female prisoners and male convicts sent to Louisiana from France in 1720. In a nonstop series of calamities and graces, she imagines why these vulnerable people were chosen to become the inhabitants of France’s latest claim in the new world and what their experience is like.
Julianne is sent to Paris’ notorious Salpetriere prison, after the mother of a baby she’s just delivered dies. She’s a new midwife, assisted at this birth by her former teacher, who accuses her of causing the mother’s death. In prison, Julianne is branded with a fleur-de-lys (the mark of King Louis) given the choice of death or a passage to Louisiana. Little does she know that a new chance at freedom in Louisiana is nothing less than a different sort of imprisonment. She is forced to marry a fellow felon. Luckily, they become endeared to one another over the journey to New Orleans and in their new home, but soon after they arrive, husband Simon dies. And then their child dies by miscarriage a few months later. Julianne struggles to cope with her mounting grief: first her parents die when she is young, then the brother she is left to raise emigrates to Louisiana, then Simon and their baby, whom she names Benjamin after the brother she hopes to find in the new colony, both die. Her friend Denise offers solace. “Here, there is no church to go to at all. But this is where I’ve been learning to pray…. Just as slippery elm soothes inflammation, prayer is a balm for a raw and ragged soul.” Appealing to Julianne’s medical knowledge, she helps Julianne recognize God’s abiding presence.
Julianne loses Simon but gains Marc-Paul, a French soldier who knew Benjamin and Simon. When another soldier, Pascal, questions the legitimacy of Julianne’s practicing midwifery in New Orleans, Marc-Paul defends her. They marry, vowing to have no secrets. However, Marc-Paul and Julianne both wait for the right moment to reveal secrets that might call their fidelity into question. Marc-Paul’s secrets come from a time when law ruled his life. “He followed the law, he stayed alive by the law, and he punished those who broke it. But ever since he met Julianne Chevalier, a hunger for something more had grown in him. Grace. He craved grace. For her and for himself.” Julianne struggles to choose between loyalty to her husband and loyalty to Benjamin. She loves them both but has reasons to mistrust both, too.
Without giving away the ending, I can say that the truth wins out. The truth is a directive another of Julianne’s friends gives her: “Love your enemy, Julianne, and that poison in your heart will go away.” Julianne’s mistrust evaporates as she works to keeps her family together. God’s grace in her efforts prevails. And Jocelyn Green’s efforts to move the story along with increasing plots twists, political intrigues and personal scandals makes discovering God’s love exciting! Through the metaphors she employs (prominently, the mark) and the many chances she gives characters to each other, she inspires readers to recognize grace in our own experiences.