A great sweep of a debut that vividly illuminates history and religious faith as it tells the story of Joan of Arc, the saint with an attitude, who restored France to the French. With all the proper research buttons pushed, first-novelist Marcantel offers a bracing story of the young woman who fought battles, temporal and spiritual, and inspired a king and an army, only to be burned at the stake. This is no revisionist tale: Joan is not some proto-feminist bent on changing society but, rather, a deeply devout young woman who loves her country, her king, and, above all, her God. Agreeably, she is not cloyingly pious either, and it is to Marcantel's immense credit that she makes Joan so credible a figure: a saint but also a woman who is frequently impatient, sometimes bad-tempered, even willful, but always remarkable. The story of her short but brilliant journey to fame and martyrdom begins on a summer's day when the 13-year-old Joan, out in her peasant family's garden, senses a tremendous Presence and is then addressed by voices as ``the Daughter of God who was born for glory on earth and in Heaven.'' These voices counsel and comfort the maturing Joan, who is anguished by her countrymen's suffering under the English overlords and their allies. Heeding their advice, she dresses as a young man, rallies veteran soldiers, leads an army to victory, and emboldens the uncrowned French king to reclaim his kingdom. But her fall is as fast as her rise: The English put a price on her head, and the king refuses to fight. Her voices fall silent, and a farce of a trial is followed by a brutal rape and the death sentence. Joan, though, will regain her faith and power long enough to shame all those who watch her die. Historical fiction of the best kind: intelligent, lively, and persuasive.