Joan: A Novel of Joan of Arc

This gripping historical fiction (385 pages) was published in July of 2022 by Random House. The book takes you to 15th-century France. David read Joan: A Novel of Joan of Arc and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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Joan: A Novel of Joan of Arc

Katherine J. Chen

This gripping novelization of the life of Jean of Arc does for the young saint what Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall did for Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII. It’s rich with history and humanity.

To understand Joan, we need to understand the time. Her legend begins in the 1400s during the Hundred Years’ War. England is trouncing France, and Henry V controls everything north of the Loire. France itself is divided into two parts: One faction believes that Charles VII should inherit the throne, and the other wants Charles’ sister to marry Henry V to unite France and England.

Into the middle of this mess comes Jean d’Arc. A poor girl — a teenager — from a small village, she claims to be guided by visions of angels and saints. At an audience with Charles VII, she convinces him she can help save France from English domination. In April 1429, the king sends her to Orleans, a city under siege. After nine days, the English abandon their posts. Joan encourages the French troops to pursue, and they triumph. It’s one of many victories spurred on by the new right hand of God in female form. Charles VII is crowned King of France at Reims Cathedral with young Joan at his side.

But all too quickly, her fortunes turn. She’s captured by a French mob loyal to England, found guilty of heresy and blasphemy, and burned at the stake.

With colorful prose and suspense, this novel explores Joan’s story. Who is this girl? Why is she a fighter? What drives her? And, maybe, the most interesting question: When did her legend take root? At one point, she was a 16-year-old girl in an unremarkable village, carrying water and chopping wood. Three years later, she was on the path to becoming a patron saint of France. How did that happen?

This book is almost three books: a coming-of-age story, a military history, and a tale of court intrigue. Come for the fascinating biography, stay for the investigations into the otherworldliness of cinnamon, the breathless battles, and the insider gossip of the French monarchy.

Her job is picker-upper of stones. Not pebbles but rocks of heft and edges and sharp corners. As the boys of Domrémy gather in the field, Joan is bent-backed over the ground, digging missiles out of the earth with blackened fingernails. From her skirts, the ends gripped in a tight fist, she makes a bundle weighted down with hard treasures. — Katherine J. Chen

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