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Helen Castor has taken an unusual approach in structuring her biography of Joan of Arc. There's a huge amount of information about Joan in the sworn testimony of two church trials. Most writers use this information freely in reconstructing Joan's childhood; Castor has chosen to leave most of this intimate detail until the point in history when it became common knowledge - during the trials themselves.
As a consequence, Joan appears on the horizon in even more of a whirlwind than usual.
Much of the first part of the book is taken up with the history of the Hundred Years War, or at least the part of the war that began with Henry V's invasion and the battle of Agincourt. Charles VII, disinherited by his own parents, is struggling to re-establish his legitimacy as King. And there, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, is Joan.
It's a remarkable story, and Castor's book is the best one I've read on the subject. The battles and politics of this period are particularly tangled, with Armagnacs against Burgundians against English, and sieges and campaigns that seem to have no purpose other than to destroy the best fighters on all sides. Castor tells it all with such lucid balance and proportion that it all makes sense, all the better to highlight Joan's remarkable achievement and the sad unravelling of her life.
She was 19 when she died, burned at the stake. The executioner dampened the flames after her clothes had burned away, so everyone could see she was a woman; and then built the fire back up to reduce any possible relics to ash.
Anne Flosnik has an unusual voice. I can't quite articulate what's unusual about it; but it's rich and expressive and pleasing, and she does a terrific job pacing the story and giving voice to Joan. I loved it. When I want a refresher on the subject, this is the one I'll turn to.
14 of 15 people found this review helpful
Helen Castor spends a great deal of time setting the stage for the appearance of The Maid, a bit too much in my view, but those with an interest in the political intrigues of 15th Century France will enjoy the scholarly narrative. The personality of Joan comes through like a beacon. Narrator was annoying when doing any voice except Joan's.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful