Joan of Arc – Jehanne the Maid – is the legendary virgin who heard the voices of the angels and led the French Dauphin to victory, finally, over the English. This book portrays her journey, from the first time she heard the voices of the angels and struggled with what to do up until her capture by the English and untimely execution. All of twelve when she first hears the voices, Jehanne struggles with her mission, her destiny, and with the people around her as she vows to do God’s will and save the French from the English.
I was really looking forward to this book. For me, like for many people obsessed with the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc is a fascinating person. This is more so because if she appeared in the present day, I’m pretty sure she would be sent to a psychiatrist and / or mental hospital, as most people who have visions and hear voices are. In this book, Jehanne (as it is spelled in the French) is also doubted and mistrusted. She must persuade people to believe her and let her lead an army, even though she is only a teenager. It’s a hard struggle, and the book portrays it as such.
But unfortunately, there were just some aspects of it I didn’t like. Jehanne is incredibly introspective for a teenager; even though she recounts the story from the moments before her death, she is almost unbelievably knowledgeable about the people around her. She knows the priests won’t believe her, for example, even though their lives are about religion and surely they would rejoice in her visions, as most of France does eventually.
She’s also puffed up with self-importance, which makes her hard to like as a character. She is The Maid, and people must bow to her as she is in the right. In part, though, I felt that could easily be true to life, because if you had the Archangel Michael whispering in your ear that you would lead the French to victory, I’m pretty sure you’d be self-important too, especially as a teen. It makes Jehanne more human, one aspect that I thought Cutter did extremely well. She is definitely a teenager, even if that concept was foreign to medieval people. None of the other characters really stood out, but they didn’t need to really because the star of the show is genuinely the star.
What I suppose didn’t work very well for me was the atmosphere. I never quite felt like I was in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War. Part of this is down to a lack of detail; not much is actually explained about the history of the conflict or what is actually going on. There is one scene where the tale of Agincourt is told around the campfire, but other than that I didn’t think the scene had been set particularly well. For people who actually don’t know the history of the war, I’m not sure whether they would learn much or feel confused. But then I am a glutton for historical detail, so perhaps this one is just me. I know the author did her research and her author’s note is very thorough, so I didn’t have any problems there; the book just never clicked with me and I didn’t fall in love with it like I wanted to.
I’m not sure what I wanted from this book, but it isn’t quite what I got. What it did give, though, was a very realistic, human portrayal of Joan of Arc, so if you’re looking for that, The Maid is for you.
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