Joan: A Novel of Joan of Arc

Random. Jul. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9781984855800. $28. F
Chen’s (Mary B) new work of historical fiction traces the life of Joan of Arc from 1422 (during her childhood) until her capture by the English in 1430. The author portrays Joan as a complex person, shaped by experiences throughout her life that drive her to become a soldier and martyr for France. While Chen acknowledges that she has taken many liberties with Joan’s story to make it relatable to the novel’s readers, the result is an intense character whose motivations are far more complex than the religious fanaticism that’s often associated with Joan. Instead, Joan is presented here as a product of many powerful influences throughout her life, including an abusive home, childhood traumas, the ever-present English threat to her homeland, and France’s political instability. Historical details are woven into the narrative, and Chen’s explanations provide enough context to understand the events without being too overwhelming.
VERDICT Chen’s novel isn’t intended to replace a biography of Joan of Arc; instead, it’s a good choice for historical fiction readers who are curious for a unique perspective on the saint, one which may serve as an entry point to learn more about her life.
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