The Maid by Kimberly Cutter – Book Review

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Joan of Arc is one of the best known of the Catholic saints, and perhaps the most famous of medieval women. As a young woman, she heard what she believed was the voice of God, calling out to her, telling her to lead an army against the English and restore the Dauphin Charles to his rightful place as the King of France. In The Maid, Kimberly Cutter addresses not only who Joan – here called Jehanne – was, but what it might have been like for her to have been the figurehead of the French army, so convinced that she was the only one who could drive out the English conquerors.

Cutter walks a fine line with The Maid, between attempting to bring Jehanne to life and also attempting to stay as true as possible to the verifiable events of her life. This means that, at times, The Maid reads a bit more like historical nonfiction than historical fiction, but this is by no means a mark against it. Although the reader is not always privy to Jehanne’s deepest emotions, Cutter excels at showing Jehanne’s state of mind, particularly her increasing volatility as her time as a leader of battle dragged on and she knew the end was approaching, such as this scene when her order forbidding prostitutes in camp is disobeyed:

Jehanne smiled, then raised her sword over her head and hit the woman with the flat of it so hard that the sword broke in half. The woman fell to the ground. Everyone around the campfire stood frozen, eyes wide as coins. Jehanne stared back at them. “I said no whores in camp.” -p. 235

Jehanne is a character who continually struggles with her believed calling, and with how she might even begin to complete the tasks set to her. Her emotional distress and quick temper may raise the question for many readers whether she was truly hearing the voice of God or whether she was mentally ill, but Cutter will not easily let us dismiss her as merely schizophrenic, as many have, dwelling as well on her verified fulfilled prophecies, such as her the outcomes of battles she did not witness and her own wounding by an arrow, as well as her miraculous survival of a seventy-some foot fall without so much as a sprained ankle.

This continual questioning and the lack of easy answers are perhaps  the best thing about The Maid, but even without them this is a compelling story of a girl who takes on a responsibility never dreamed of by the other woman of her age and steadfastly performs what she sees as her duty, despite her own fears and misgivings. Highly recommended.

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The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory – Book Review

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

This is the third book in Philippa Gregory’s The Cousin’s War series. I have also reviewed the two previous books, The White Queen and The Red Queen. Each book stands alone, and none of the reviews contain spoilers for the other books.

Both a friend and attendant of Lancastrian Henry VI’s queen Margaret of Anjou and the mother of Yorkist Edward IV’s wife Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta of Luxembourg was a complex and complicated medieval woman. Unlike so many women she was able to marry for love – at least the second time – and had a large, apparently close-knit family. Perhaps at another time in England’s history Jacquetta might have had a peaceful life at court and with her family, but her family began to come of age at a time when the houses of Lancaster and York were locked in a deadly battle for control of England, battle that caused everyone to reexamine their loyalties and choose sides.

So overall, I really like The Lady of the Rivers. It is classic Gregory, very engaging, if not always particularly historically accurate (although we now know that she isn’t too concerned by that allegation). I was sucked in, very interested about Jacquetta’s story, particularly since she is all but ignored in most historical fiction. But you guys, oh my gosh, the repetition. I don’t know whether this is a case of her being a big enough superstar not to have to accept edits or editing not being done very carefully on her books because she is a superstar who will sell no matter what, but at the beginning of the book in particular, she would describe the same thing in the same way multiple times in a few pages, or even on the same page. On particularly egregious example includes the same phrase being used twice in as many paragraphs.

“It is home, he says simply. “And even at its worst, one acre of England is worth ten square miles of France.”

I look at him blankly. “All you Englishmen are the same,I tell him. You think that you are divinely blessed by God for no better reason than you had the longbow at Agincourt.”

He laughs. “We are,” he says. “We think rightly. We are divinely blessed. And one acre of England is worth ten in France.” (emphasis mine)

I suppose that wasn’t exactly the same thing two paragraphs later, since he assessment changed by the magnitude of a mile to an acre, but you get the drift.

The good news is that either this repetitive ridiculousness stopped after about the first hundred pages or Gregory pulled me deeply enough into Jacquetta’s story that I didn’t notice. I do wish, however, that The Lady of the Rivers had been released as the first book in this series. There were parts in The White Queen where Jacquetta seemed almost cartoonish, her magic overdone. I think Gregory has tempered that picture and made her a much fuller character in The Lady of the Rivers, and I think The White Queen would have been improved with that additional knowledge both on Gregory’ part, and the part of the reader.

Gregory fans, this is no The Other Queen debacle, pick up it. Those of you not already acquainted with Gregory’s work, pick it up if you are in the mood for fun, absorbing historical fiction and aren’t too worried about strict adherence to known historical facts – and if you can bear a little repetition.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.