Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

Title: The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc
Author: Kimberly Cutter
ISBN: 978-0-547-42752-2
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date:  20 October, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304
How I read it: from Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 Crowns




Synopsis from Amazon: "The girl who led an army, the peasant who crowned a king, the maid who became a legend It is the fifteenth century, and the tumultuous Hundred Years’ War rages on. France is under siege, English soldiers tear through the countryside destroying all who cross their path, and Charles VII, the uncrowned king, has neither the strength nor the will to rally his army. And in the quiet of her parents’ garden in Domr√©my, a peasant girl sees a spangle of light and hears a powerful voice speak her name. Jehanne . 

The story of Jehanne d’Arc, the visionary and saint who believed she had been chosen by God, who led an army and saved her country, has captivated our imagination for centuries. But the story of Jehanne—the girl—whose sister was murdered by the English, who sought an escape from a violent father and a forced marriage, who taught herself to ride and fight, and who somehow found the courage and tenacity to persuade first one, then two, then thousands to follow her, is at once thrilling, unexpected, and heartbreaking."

 My Thoughts: The story of the young peasant girl from Domremy who led an Army and crowned a king has reached mythical proportions over the passage of time.  In The Maid, Kimberly Cutter allows the reader to see past the storied exploits of the legendary saint and introduces us to the real girl that was Jehanne.  Jehanne knows from a young age that her calling is with God but in her father's eyes, her only use is to make a good marriage that will benefit the family.  When her true path-to free France from the English and place Charles VII on the throne- is revealed to her by the Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret, she places her faith in God and leaves her small village to try and accomplish the seemingly impossible task.  Jehanne is by no means perfect in this novel which I really appreciated.  At several points she is unsure of her ability to bring people to support her cause but they see something in her and slowly her Army begins to come together.  It was interesting to watch the transition from the frightened worried girl to the confident fearless leader.  She knows her time is limited and she has much to accomplish in  this short span of time. I appreciated the more reasonable explanation for some of the feats Jehanne was able to accomplish- how she was able to recognize Charles from among a crowd and how she knew where to find her famed sword to name a few.  I personally prefer a more rational explanation to "it was all God's doing".  Of course being about a woman who hears voices and has visions from God, the book does have it's fair amount of religious content and I really liked the way this was handled.  Cutter didn't make the vision/voices aspect seem hokey and despite Jehanne's deep rooted faith the book was not preachy. 

My biggest problem with the book is with focus on Jehanne being so intense the book lost sight of explaining what was going on with the bigger picture.  There wasn't a whole lot of background on the Hundred Years War.  I am not as well versed in this part of history as I am with other areas so I wasn't quite sure why certain battles were key and why certain locations were so important to the story-and it wasn't really explained either.  Also Jehanne was the only character I really felt I got to "know".  Everyone else-Charles, Jehanne's family, her supporters-weren't really fleshed out enough for me to entirely understand their motivations.  Charles' less than ideal childhood was briefly explained but not enough so to justify why he was such a spineless coward who decided to listen to his shady advisers than support the woman who brought him to the throne.  I found it curious that while some time was devoted to Jehanne's time in prison, virtually no time in the novel was given to her trial.  Also interesting is Cutter does not end Jehanne's story where authors typically do.  The writing itself flows nicely throughout and while short chapters may be annoying to some people, I thought it worked well here.

 Despite getting a little lost with the history aspect of the novel, I really liked this more personal view of Jehanne.  I would say if you're looking to learn about this point of time as a whole this might not be the best book for that but if you're looking for a book that attempts to get inside the head of the well known figure, this was a good effort.  Bonus points because the author included a note at the end explaining which elements of the novel were based in truth and which parts she fiddled with history a bit.  I love when authors offer insight into why they wrote the story the way they did, especially when I don't know the history that well as the case was with this book.



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2 comments:

dolleygurl said...

Thanks for this review. I haven't really read anything about Joan of Arc before but I recently watched the Joan of Arc movie staring Mila Jovavich (sp?) which I really enjoyed.

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

Thanks for the review, Holly. I was looking forward to reading this one, but haven't yet read many overly enthusiastic reviews of it. I think the lack of historical context would drive me crazy so I'll probably pass on this one.

 
Barbara