February 3, 2018 by readingoutside
Promises to Keep is an old-fashioned historical romance set amidst the story of the 1755 Acadian Expulsion is Grand Pré, Nova Scotia. This book had three factors that drew it to me: an enemy romance, a setting I am very familiar with, and a Maritime story featuring my own ancestors, the Acadians. How could I resist?
Amélie Belliveau is a 17-year-old living with her family in the small farming community of Grand Pré. Her life is pretty good, and her village is fairly prosperous. Also, as it is mentioned in the book, the land is extremely beautiful. (Disclaimer: my grandfather used to live there, and I spent a lot of time visiting when I was in my teens and early twenties, and it is every bit as wonderful as the author describes).
The only thing that intrudes on their idyllic life is the presence of the British army. There’s a conflict going on between England and France, a lot of which you don’t really need to know, except that 1) the British are land-hungry) and 2) they really want the land the Acadians live on. Being the mighty superpower they are, the British figure that the easiest solution is to simply load the Acadians onto ships, send them off to some vaguely-defined destination, and burn the village down.
Connor MacDonnall is one of the British soldiers staying in Amélie’s town, but he’s one of the good guys. He’s actually Scottish and actively dislikes the British, but through a series of various misadventures he finds himself having to join the British army. Connor falls hard for Amélie and is horrified by what is happening to her people. Because he can speak French, he befriends her and tries to do what he can for her and her family.
Even though I knew what was coming, the sheer awfulness of what happens to the Acadians in the story was almost unbearable to read. It is one thing to learn about how the Acadians were expelled, but quite another to feel like you are going through the horror with them. And at the risk of spoiling history, it doesn’t end well for anyone.
Toward the end of the story I began to realize that the whole narrative was as much about survival as it was love. I will warn you that it is brutal. Even after the expulsion itself, awful thing after awful thing keeps happening to Amélie and her family. And just when you think it might start getting better, it doesn’t. There is no sugar-coating the extreme hardships the Acadians faced in the time after they were forcibly ripped from their land. Many did not survive, and do not survive in this story.
Make no mistake, this romance isn’t an uplifting one. But if you like your protagonists to persevere against all odds and fight hard for their happy ending, you will probably love this one. I did, however, find it dragging toward the end and a tad overstuffed with extraneous story lines.
Note to war romance lovers – the author, Genevieve Graham, has written another historical romance about the Halifax Explosion, and there is one coming out soon set during World War II.