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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Emilie by Ingrid Ramsdale takes us back to sixteenth-century France and a time of great change in French society as the predominantly Roman Catholic religion is being challenged by the rise of a new way of worshipping; the teachings of John Calvin and his Protestant movement that was sweeping through Europe at the time. Emilie’s family are proud Huguenots (Protestants) and as such are threatened by the rising tide of violence from the country’s Catholic majority, spurred on by the French government and Pope Gregory to crush the burgeoning Protestant religion. Emilie wanted nothing more than to learn about plants and their medicinal qualities, to become a healer. But daughters of noble families did not study; they instead were married off to advance the family’s political connections. Faced with a brother who clearly hated her, a father who doted on her but was swayed by the political considerations of 16th-century France, and a mother who couldn’t understand or empathize with Emilie’s desires, she felt alone and defeated. Preparing to run away and assume a new identity, Emilie’s plans are thwarted when the Paris mob begins hunting down and massacring Huguenot families. Barely escaping with her life, Emilie finds herself on a dangerous and violent path as she is hunted, not only by her malicious and jealous brother Pierre but also by her supposed fiancé, the evil Marcus Daval. For Emilie, life has become one long search for the peace and happiness she so passionately desires.
Emilie is a fantastically exciting adventure that captures readers and carries them along in a whirlwind of danger and self-discovery that anyone who reads it will find enthralling. Author Ingrid Ramsdale has created a feminine lead character in Emilie who is both appealing and relatable. As a twenty-first-century reader, one cannot help but empathize with this beautiful young woman who wants nothing more than to break away from the strictures of feminine expectation in the 16th century and strike out on her own, using her brains and intellect to help mankind rather than submitting to the expectations of her parents and society in general.
I really appreciated that, at its core, this was a love story, a romance that transcended physical deprivation, pain, and horrific injury. The author did a fabulous job at tying all the disparate links between the characters into a thoroughly believable and acceptable narrative. Historical fiction that relates to actual seminal events in history is always the best type, in my opinion. The factual nature of the narrative, the relationship between the fictional characters such as Emilie, and the real-life events that surrounded her, such as the St Bartholomew Day’s massacre, were seamless and believable. This is an extraordinary debut novel and I will certainly be keeping a keen eye out for more works in the future from this talented author. This is a book that I can highly recommend.