Louisiana, 1704, and France is clinging on to a swampy corner of the New World with only a few hundred men. Into this precarious situation arrive Elizabeth Savaret, one of a group of young women sent from Paris to provide wives for the colonists, and Auguste Guichard, the only ship's boy to survive the crossing. Elizabeth brings with her a green-silk quilt and a volume of Montaigne's essays; August brings nothing but an aptitude for botany and languages. Each has to build a life, Elizabeth among the feckless inhabitants of Mobile who wait for white flour to be sent from France; Auguste in the 'redskin' village where he has been left as hostage and spy. Soon both fall for the bewitching charisma of infantryman Jean-Claude Babelon, Elizabeth as his wife, Auguste as his friend. But Babelon is a dangerous man to become involved with. Like so many who seek their fortunes in the colonies, he is out for himself, and has little regard for loyalty, love and trust. When his treachery forces Elizabeth and Auguste to start playing by his rules, the consequences are devastating. Rich in tactile detail, heart-wrenching in its portrayal of people clinging on to their humanity against the brutality of nature and commerce, this is historical fiction at its best. So absorbing is Clare Clark's recreation of eighteenth-century Louisiana that the reader won't want to leave it, even though the unstable ground on which New Orleans is putting down its first foundations proves far from hospitable.