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Review: The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc
by Kimberly Cutter

Born a peasant in fifteenth century Domrémy, a young girl named Jehanne begins seeing bright light and hearing voices as she tends to her chores. The voices identify themselves as saints, and implore Jehanne to leave her home and save France by leading an army to battle the English. Eventually she does, following not only the voices' commands but also escaping from her violent, crazed father, who was driven to madness after the death of her older sister. At first, no one believes that Jehanne speaks to the saints, but her piety and righteous anger at the English gradually wins knights, nobles, and eventually the royal family to her side. Jehanne is constantly driven by her desire to restore the Dauphin, save France, and to complete all this before her time runs out, for her voices have made it clear that she has less than two years to accomplish God's will.

Although she's referred to as Jehanne in the novel, I'm going to switch to referring to the main character as Joan now, simply because that's the name she's known by to English-speaking audiences. I don't know a lot of the historic details of Joan's life - just the general legend that pops up in Hollywood and pop culture – so when the author states in her notes that the book matches the historical record as best as it can, I have to trust that.

One of the things that I really liked about the novel was the tension between what Joan wanted to do and what the Dauphin and his advisers needed her to be. For example, one of the best known moments of her life is when she enters a crowded throne room and identifies that the man sitting on the throne as an imposter, and then singles out the Dauphin from where he stands in the crowd disguised – all this when she has never met the Dauphin before. In her legend, it's a miracle. In this novel, it's a cleverly staged bit of propaganda dreamed up by Yolande, Queen of Sicily, mother-in-law of the Dauphin. Although Joan sees and hears the saints, others cannot, but her reaction to her visions are powerful enough that they can convince others of their potency. There's plenty of tension within the character of Joan herself; it's easy to forget that within the legendary warrior is a very normal teenager, filled with the same doubts and desires as other girls her age.

While she draws strength from her saints, they cannot completely eradicate her humanity, and this is not always not a flattering portrayal of Joan. She is drawn to fame and feeds on the adoration of the crowds, and throughout the book she constantly reminds herself that it is God they praise, but still struggles to remain humble. She can also be extremely bossy and self-righteous; since she takes her orders directly from the archangel Michael and the saints Catherine and Margaret, Joan often doesn't listen to the counsel of earthly advisers. She can be hypocritical at times, too – she complains that the troops swear too much while uttering oaths herself a few pages later. But for all her flaws, the strength of the girl shines through and made her a sympathetic character.

The novel is a very quick read, and quite enjoyable. It made me want to look up a biography of Joan so I could learn more about her life, and separate the facts from the mythology that surrounds her.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Maid, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Fashionista Piranha Book Blog is on hold for a few weeks!
2010: Closing down for end of the year Festivus...
2009: Photos: Most Beautiful Libraries from Around the World
2008: Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel by Mary Shelley


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