The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
Rating: R; 4 1/2 stars
Summary: The Maid is the story of St. Joan of Arc, told from the time she first heard the saints talking to her until her death at the hands of the English. The book moves back in forth in time, as Joan (or Jehanne, as she's called in this book) recounts her story to a priest that visits her in her cell before her execution. The Maid makes no qualms about showing the darker side of Joan's personality and her life. It tracks her journey from discovering her duty in the small French village of Lorraine, to recruiting soldiers and nobles to her cause, through the war, and up to her death. Along the way, the book introduces questions of duty, motive, and means to an end.
Opinions: Joan of Arc is my favorite saint. She has been for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember liking the fact that she actually went out and did something. When I made my Confirmation (the Catholic coming-of-age sacrament), I took Joan as my Confirmation name (traditionally, one chooses the name of a saint). The Wishbone episode with Joan of Arc was one of my favorites. So yeah. I may be a bit biased, because when this book came out, I saw it and thought OMG Joan of Arc novel! Yeah.
Bias aside, this novel did not disappoint. I felt that historical details were memorable and accurate, and the dialogue was both period accurate and entertaining. I felt that this novel was incredibly well-written, and in fact, I read the first 200 pages of the book without stopping, simply because I enjoyed it so much.
I felt that The Maid was incredibly well-researched. In the author's note at the back of the book, Cutter wrote about how meticulously she researched Joan of Arc. Even the most unbelievable scene in the book is entirely based in fact (that is the scene in which Joan leaps from the top of a tower. According to records, she hit the ground without so much as a sprained ankle).
I think my favorite thing about the book was how well it characterized Joan. Joan of Arc is the sort of historical figure that, in my experience, is thought of only in relation to her actions. By contrast, The Maid presented Joan as a human being, with interests and flaws and feelings. I felt that her emotions in particular were very realistic and increased both my respect for her as a Saint and my appreciation for her as a human being. Scenes that are standing out to me are those when she overhears a sexual encounter, when she realizes she might be falling in love, and when she stops hearing from the saints. Those moments in particular seemed very human to me, nothing more, nothing less.
I gave this book an R rating for violence, language, and (oddly enough) sexual content. I gave it 4 1/2 stars because it was an incredibly enjoyable book. It was compelling, well-written, and well-researched. My only complaint with it was how quickly the ending came on. I just felt like the pacing was a little off as the book ended. However, this is still a fantastic book, and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. In short, The Maid is an excellent read for lovers of history, France, saints, or Joan of Arc in particular.