Book review: The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

23 May

(From the cover) It is the early part of the fifteenth century and the tumultuous Hundred Years War rages on. The French city of Orleans is under siege, English soldiers tear through the countryside wreaking destruction on all who cross their path, and Charles VII, the uncrowned king, has neither the strength nor the will to rally his army. And in the quiet of her parents’ garden in Domremy, a twelve-year-old peasant girl, Jehanne, hears a voice that will change her life – and the course of European history.

The tale of Jehanne d’Arc, the saint and warrior who believed she had been chosen by God to save France, and who led an army of 10,000 soldiers against the English, has captivated our imagination for centuries. But the story of Jehanne – the girl – whose sister was murdered by the English, who sought an escape from her violent father and a forced marriage, who taught herself to ride, and fight, and lead, and who somehow found the courage and tenacity to convince first one, then two, then tens, then thousands to follow her, is at once thrilling, unexpected and heart-breaking. Sweeping, gripping and rich with intrigue, betrayal, love and valour, The Maid is an unforgettable novel about the power and burden of faith, and the exhilarating and devastating consequences of fame.

Before reading this book I knew very little about Joan of Arc save for her unpleasant demise; burned at the stake at the age of 19 and the fact that she was given a posthumous sainthood.  I knew nothing of her background or the details of her deeds at all. If I’m honest,  the Hundred Years War period of history wouldn’t be my favourite era and I’m not a big fan of books with lots of battle scenes  but having read The Maid, Kimberly Cutter has done such a good job of bringing Jehanne (Joan) to life on the page and telling her story that I was completely drawn in and I found the detail of how she rallied people for her cause, fascinating.

The Maid feels very much like a personal account of Jehanne’s life. The majority of it is narrated in the third person but there are snippets of Jehanne’s thoughts written in the first person and woven into the book almost as though she is commentating on her own story which really pulled me in.

Despite the fact that Jehanne’s story is based on her deep religious faith, the book didn’t feel overtly religious and Jehanne’s visions and the voices she hears are dealt with in a way that makes them an essential part of the story but that emphasises Jehanne’s own will above all. Jehanne’s willpower and strength was the most amazing part of this story for me; the fact that a young peasant girl could find the will to follow her convictions, defy the gender constraints of the time and convince others to follow her to the point where she led an army of  ten thousand is an impressive story; the fact that the story is true is amazing and made The Maid a compelling read for me.

The book feels very well researched and although I’m no expert, the historical detail felt very accurate. I did find parts of the battle scenes quite gory but no doubt realistic. Some of the more colourful language used surprised me and wasn’t what I expected, but in context it made sense and I thoroughly enjoyed the way Jehanne dealt with it!

Although the book deals predominantly with Jehanne, there are some interesting minor characters, my favourites of which were The Duke of Alencon (Charles VII’s  first cousin) who becomes something of a confidante to Jehanne and Yolande, Queen of Sicily (Charles’s mother in law) who is very much the political spin doctor of the book.

As the book drew to a close, I found Jehanne’s fall from grace as she struggles with her fame and is manipulated politically, hard reading and couldn’t help wish the story had ended differently. In The Maid, Kimberly Cutter has made a very real person out of a legend, putting onto the page in a believable way, the thoughts and feelings that Jehanne might of experienced and creating an historical account that is well worth reading.

4/5

You can find out more about The Maid and Kimberly Cutter and dowload the first chapter of the book at: http://www.themaidbook.com/

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book.

2 Responses to “Book review: The Maid by Kimberly Cutter”

  1. Sharon Goodwin 23rd May 2011 at 11:13 am #

    This is a genre that interests me and it’s gone on my wish list.

    Loved the review – thank you.

    • Amanda 23rd May 2011 at 6:59 pm #

      Thanks Sharon – I hope you get to read it soon.

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