At the age of 12, illiterate farm girl Jehanne has visions of three saints, Margaret, Catherine of Alexandria and Michael the Archangel. Arousing her father's ire when she refuses to marry, Jehanne flees her home village of Domrémy. The saintly voices have instructed her to lead an army to drive the English from French soil and crown the Dauphin Charles, putative heir to the throne, as King of France. She persuades a local nobleman to finance her journey to Chinon castle, where Charles currently cowers. The French court is bankrupt and, after decades of war, the English and their allies the Burgundians control half the country, including Paris. Jehanne's countrymen, whose homes, livelihood and food supply have been ravaged by the Goddons (the French rendering of a favorite English epithet), long for a hero, but a heroine will do. Jehanne convinces mealy-mouthed Charles to muster troops for her, and with an army of 10,000 (at its peak) she wrests Orléans and other key cities from the Goddons and keeps her promise to crown Charles in Reims Cathedral. Although the people revere her, certain courtiers resent her usurpation of male prerogatives. Charles backpedals when Jehanne wants to take Paris, and she is forced to attack with a reduced force, which leads to her capture, trial and execution at the stake. The novel covers familiar ground, but Cutter's protagonist is more than a tomboy saint. Jehanne's foolhardy bravery (she is wounded three times, and survives a 70-foot fall), her fervent, some would say fanatical piety (her armies must abstain from alcohol, sex and profanity during campaigns) and her struggle to reconcile her righteous bloodlust with her abhorrence of violence, bespeak multifaceted humanity. Cutter does not shrink from depicting the depravity of warriors on both sides. In a particularly wrenching scene, Jehanne must overlook atrocities committed by a baron whose allegiance she desperately needs.
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