A retelling of the Joan of Arc story set in a terrifying near future of environmental and political chaos.
Earth in 2049 is ravaged. A geocatastrophe has swallowed coasts and islands; supervolcanoes and solar storms have dimmed the sun and reduced the planet to “a dirt clod, floating in space.” The wealthiest of Earth’s inhabitants now live in CIEL, “a suborbital complex” floating just in view of their former planetary home. Christine Pizan (a nod to medieval court writer Christine de Pisan), at age 49, resembles the other inhabitants of CIEL: physically androgynous, completely white “like the albumen of an egg,” and covered in scars and skin grafts. These deliberate body modifications, or “skinstories,” are Christine’s expertise, and they are some of the only reminders she has left of life on Earth, along with her beloved friend and fellow CIELian Trinculo (who resembles his buffoonish namesake from Shakespeare’s The Tempest). In particular, Christine has seared into her body the story of Joan, a young eco-terrorist from the time of the geocatastrophe—and when her and Trinculo’s survival is threatened, she turns to her body’s offering of Joan’s tale for inspiration. Yuknavitch (The Small Backs of Children, 2015, etc.) writes with her characteristic fusion of poetic precision and barbed ferocity, and the ingenuity of the world she creates astounds even in the face of the novel’s ambitiously messy sprawl. Perhaps even more astounding is Yuknavitch’s prescience: readers will be familiar with the figure of Jean de Men, a celebrity-turned–drone-wielding–dictator who first presided over the Wars on Earth and now lords over CIEL, having substituted “all gods, all ethics, and all science with the power of representation, a notion born on Earth, evolved through media and technology.”
A harrowing and timely entry into the canon of speculative fiction.