In the Shadow of the Sun King introduces readers to Madeleine Clavell, a Huguenot during unsettled times in seventeenth century France. King Louis XIV’s quest to unify France under the Catholic religion plunges her family into chaos as the King’s dragoons seek to relocate her children to Catholic schools, and seize control of her family estate.
Seeking to divert the King’s minions, Madeleine departs for court, leaving her two young boys hidden in a cave with their uncle and her young daughter with her husband at home. Drawing upon a history of young love, she hopes to extract a promise of mercy, an exception from the countrywide disruption affecting those who profess a Reformed faith.
This, Golden Keyes Parsons first novel in the Darkness to Light series, is based both upon historical fact and her own genealogy. As a reader with great interest in the persecuted church throughout the ages, I was looking forward to a moving tale that put flesh on the difficulties faced by Huguenot’s and their response to the pressures applied to them. Instead, I found a story that uses persecution almost more as a plot device, without tapping into the broader undercurrents of the persecutions in France.
Disappointingly, Parson’s debut effort also suffers from an awkward writing style, I nearly gave up in the opening three chapters, but pressed on, hoping to glean more details of Huguenot life. Excessive use of character names during dialogue repeatedly slows the flow of action, the odd French word here and there also seemed out of place and somewhat annoying.
Madeline is a weak character – her girlish giggling seems to infatuate all manner of men – the King included, but failed to elicit any true emotion from me. I couldn’t fathom how all these men could instantly feel so deeply for her, even one she’d only met a handful of times. Her husband Francois is grittier and more believable as he toughs it out, but fails to rescue the story.
The passion the Huguenots must have held for their doctrinal beliefs and the freedom they experienced in Christ alone is barely felt. Far more emphasis is placed upon the “traditions” of the family faith rather than a deep personal commitment that refuses to surrender under hardship. Personal relationships with God are however evident in the lives of the characters.
I love Christian historical fiction that revolves around major historical events and held high hopes for Parsons’ series. With such a fabulous premise and time period, In the Shadow of the Sun King could have been both deeply moving and informative; instead, reading it became little more than a task to be completed quickly and removed from my to-do list.