Book Review: The Mark of the King, by Jocelyn Green****
Bethany House (Historical Fiction)
Ms. Green’s descriptions transport you from your recliner to the hot, humid, oppressive, muddy, unwelcoming terrain of Louisiana in August with ease. “The settlement was a study of brown and green: muddy trails spiked with weeds, rust-colored cypress dwellings topped with palmetto thatch, the grey-green moss dangling from trees in the swamp behind her home. Even the river burnished more bronze than blue beneath the blazing sun…the Mississippi smelled of fish, coffee, corn, bear grease, and eau-de-vie, a cheap variety of brandy.” And let’s not forget the number of crayfish chimneys she crushed while walking barefooted or the millions of uninvited mosquitoes.
This is a heart-rending tale of a young French woman, Julianne, who is falsely convicted of a crime. Sentenced to a lifetime in prison, she volunteers to go with a group of prisoners the king is sending to Louisiana to settle the land. The king also demands the women pick out a male prisoner to take as husband so his new land will be fruitful. Thus, begins Julianne’s long struggle to reclaim her life and find her brother, Benjamin, who sailed to Louisiana, as a member of the French army, three years before her. Julianne is a strong three-dimensional heroine whose faith and stamina is challenged at every turn.
But I had trouble relating to the hero in the story. Marc-Paul, a Captain in the French army, becomes Julianne’s second husband once she reaches Louisiana. His motivation and goals are clearly stated in the story, but when circumstances challenge his beliefs he lets it slide. His fellow officer, Pascal, is discovered smuggling the army’s supplies and selling to the enemy. With Marc-Paul’s character described as strictly Catholic and devoted to the French king, I cannot fathom why he did not arrest the man on the spot. His men were starving because of his companion’s actions. “That was the law, by edict of King Louis XIV, for whom Louisiana was named. And Marc-Paul Girard obeyed the law, whether handed down by God or king. Except for the times he didn’t.” This last sentence seemed in-congruent to Marc-Paul’s character. Friend or no friend. The military has rules; rules you don’t bend when you feel like it, even in 1720. Maybe this is a glaring point for me since I’m from a military family. The lack of this character’s arrest led to horrific consequences throughout the remainder of the book. Yes, it made for terrific conflict, but I felt it to be contrived. And that’s when I snapped out of the story world; you know that world you’re in while you’re totally engrossed. Ms. Green had me until Marc-Paul let me down. However, despite Marc-Paul’s questionable abilities to lead men, and my love of the alpha hero, this story is worth the read just to see how our brave heroine, Julianne, the prisoner sentenced to life, branded by the king’s mark managed to conquer all and do it with dignity, grace and love in her heart.