Good Christian fiction concerning the Huguenots is hard to come by. It’s been my experience that many such books are written in what I call “old-speak” and are difficult to “get into.” Those that remain are few and far between. I have, however, chosen Golden Keyes Parsons’ “In the Shadow of the Sun King” as my second-favorite book. (I reviewed my favorite, Miles Harvey’s “Painter in a Savage Land,” in my post of May 23).
“In the Shadow of the Sun King” begins in the 1670s, as France’s Protestants are nearing the “boiling point” that will explode into the rights-revoking Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685. The family in question is the Clavells. The main characters are Madeleine Vaudois-Clavell, her husband François Clavell, their children Evangeline (Vangie), Charles, and Philippe, François’ loyal brother Jean, a cruel dragoon commander named Paul Bovée, and Paul’s illegitimate adult son Pierre.
Each character was lovingly and three-dimensionally crafted, which is always a gift. They were believable and interesting people I could have known; not stiff and stereotyped as many book characters have the misfortune of being. I must confess that strong-minded, proud, faithful Madeleine was actually not my favorite character in this book. Rather, I liked François Clavell best. He was a genuine believer, gentle but strong, the sort of gentleman who was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs. In fact, the book intimates that he and Madeleine first met when he was a very young man escaping persecution.
There were many places throughout the tale that François was tempted to convert in order to restore peace to his family, but his quiet and steadfast refusal to do so, along with the tender spirit with which Ms. Parsons so ingeniously infused him, endeared him to me. I also enjoyed the parts featuring Francois’ courteous and witty brother Jean, though he made some choices that I was very uncomfortable with (read the book to find out!).
Long story short, dragonnades (King Louis XIV’s Catholic soldiers known for their brutality toward the Protestant families in whose homes they billeted) take over the Clavell estate, resulting in flight for Jean, Philippe and Charles and bullying for everyone else. Young children were often kidnapped and sent to convents and monasteries in this time. Madeleine, who has a romantic history with Louis that may have been more serious than anyone anticipates, attempts to restore the king’s favor to her family and to stop the cruelty. After many twists and turns François is slated to be a galley slave (one of the worst tortures a Protestant could suffer, as it was considered to be a long and drawn-out death).
I loved the way Ms. Parsons wrote, the way she “colored” her characters, and the way that there was no end to either thought-provoking dialogue or fast-paced adventure. The people were so real that they could have lived in modern times just as well as the 17th century, but they never went “out of their element” . . . luckily she refrained from modern terminology and even added a few French words for authenticity’s sake.
The sad part was that every sort of horrific event of which she writes actually happened. Children were taken from their parents. Houses were desecrated and burned. Families were accosted continuously while soldiers billeted in their homes. Louis XIV did make life for French Protestants worse than death. “In the Shadow of the Sun King” did not mince words while describing how difficult times were, but I as a reader was caught between drama, excitement, and intrigue, so the story did its job.
The sequel, “A Prisoner of Versailles,” was also good but not quite as gut-grabbing as the first. And the third in the series, “Where Hearts Are Free,” which deals with a grown-up Philippe Clavell making a life in America, was not one of my favorites either. But “In the Shadow of the Sun King” is definitely in my top five!
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved