cover image Joan of Arc: A History

Joan of Arc: A History

Helen Castor. Harper, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-238439-3

Now a legendary symbol of France, Joan of Arc began her life as a 15th-century peasant girl who, after hearing the voice of God, donned “armour as though she were a man” and inspired the army of the dauphin Charles to victory over the English before leading him to his coronation at Reims as Charles VII. Castor (She-Wolves) recreates the heady atmosphere of a period when rival French, English, and English-Burgundian claims resulted in two claimants to the French throne. Her detailed, lengthy, and well-written account relates the fighting between primary dynastic houses before Joan arrives on the scene. Joan remains enigmatic throughout much of Castor’s work, but as she faces death at the hands of her English-Burgundian captors, her extraordinary will shines through. Castor increasingly uses Joan’s words during her trial, and quotes from the testimony of her friends and family members in the posthumous re-examination of her cleric-orchestrated trial. Surprisingly, Castor doesn’t mention post-WWI French nationalism and the desire of competing factions to appropriate Joan’s story in the brief discussion of Joan’s canonization in 1920. Castor creates a strong introduction to the courageous girl who swore she heard saints’ voices, but also to the nation-rending struggle for power so fiercely waged that only that singular, obsessive teenager could finally save France. Illus. [em](May) [/em]