Two lovers are caught in a tangled time of war. A great nation is torn by conflicting beliefs and a king who arouses a blazing trail of rebellion. There seems to be no safe place on an earth where violence is the everyday norm. One may think that these “taglines” advertise a new bestseller belonging to the historical adventure genre. They don’t. This is part of the storyline of The Refugees by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a nineteenth century historical romance set in the late seventeenth century across the royal palace of Versailles in France, the frontier of New France in Canada, and Native American territory among the Thirteen Colonies.
Although he is remembered for his Sherlock Holmes canon, Doyle’s careful research and his fascination with major events and historical periods are clearly demonstrated in The Refugees, a romantic tale about fugitives forced to flee their homeland and face danger in a new world. After King Louis XIV of France rescinds the Edict of Nantes, Doyle’s main characters must escape from the planned oppression of thousands of Huguenots, courtesy of the Roman Catholic Church in France. Hoping to start new lives in the freedom of America, they instead encounter the horrific raids and massacres instigated by the Iroquois. What the refugees have left behind soon is the lesser evil as they fight to survive amid grotesque tortures and abominable conditions.
Doyle’s criticism regarding the agenda of the Catholic Church in The Refugees is simultaneously controversial and intriguing, especially the way church leaders cleverly manipulated secular rulers like Louis XIV into officiating over prejudice, extortion, and brutal revenge. Doyle uses his talent for details to graphically portray the many crimes of the Iroquois and the frightening environment of the New World during those times. The author insinuates more than once that he also is shocked and appalled by what he is extricating from history, his interpretation of both European and American history as solid as can be. The Refugees is riveting and electrifying, a story covered in blood and war and demanding empathy from the reader. The novel strongly emerges from the struggles of the times to create a star of its genre with rare qualities and inspiring storytelling by a great writer.