Published 2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, ISBN 978--0-547-42752-2, 279 pages.
In this short, but powerful, historical fiction novel, Kimberly Cutter brings Jehanne d'Arc to life once again. Joan of Arc, unarguably one of the most famous women in history, has been the subject of many historical fiction books. Kimberly Cutter seems to find her way inside Jehanne's head and heart and writes about a human being, rather than a saint want-to-be.
Cutter's prose is sharp, succinct and effective. Many of her sentences comprise of only 5 or 6 words, but deliver impact. I found this an extremely readable novel, enjoying the lack of superfluous prose common in novels.
Cutter writes of a young girl, uneducated, living in terror of her father and their enemies, the Goddens and Burgundians, yet filled with the Spirit of God who receives visitations from Archangel Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. She has sworn to tell no-one of her visitations other than a weakling youth with a claim to the Crown of France, whom she must crown. A seemingly impossible and incredulous commandment.
Throughout the entire novel, The Maid (Jehanne so named herself The Maid, as she believed her virginity was a deciding factor in the tasks God set before her) experiences an intense range of emotions: conviction she has been chosen by God to reclaim France from the English; fear of failure; determination to do whatever necessary to follow God's commands; doubts that Satan has used her; valor on battlegrounds; frustration; disappointment; courage; rejection, temptation, betrayal, ostracism; and, finally, terror at the knowledge of her impending horrific death.
One tends to think of saints as people who are above human emotions, grounded and secure in their convictions, and forget, saints, just like the rest of us, belong to mankind. Kimberly Cutter does an excellent job of reminding us.
One small drawback that brought me out of the novel on a few occasions was the use of contemporary slang, such as, "Screw plans." written in dialogue. I haven't researched this, but, somehow, I highly doubt such venacular was in use in the early to mid-1400's.
Cutter's Author's Notes and Acknowledgements detail an impressive research background on the subject of The Maid.
RATING: **** (Excellent)