Hemphill (Fatal Throne, 2018, etc.), known for her verse biographies of young women, returns with the story of 15th-century Saint Joan of Arc.
Jehanne, as the otherwise illiterate peasant girl spelled her name, was 13 years old when she first heard voices telling her she was to save France. It was 1425, and England and France were well into the fight for domination known as the Hundred Years’ War. At 16, Jehanne convinced the captain of the French dauphin to take her to him. After showing Charles a vision of a golden crown, she rode as a soldier at the head of his army, raised the siege of Orléans, and saw him crowned Charles VII at Rheims. The next spring, however, she was captured by English factions, put on trial, and burned at the stake. In blank verse from Jehanne’s point of view, Hemphill goes into extraordinary detail regarding the battles she fought and the men who did or did not support her—helped by the transcripts from Joan’s actual trial, among the most detailed medieval records still extant. The decision described in her author’s note to condense the holy voices Jehanne heard minimizes the elements of faith and piety; Jehanne is reduced to a protofeminist for modern readers. Also, the story slogs: It could have been half the length with twice the impact.
Pick up David Elliott’s Voices (2019) instead. (foreword, list of monarchs, author’s note, further reading) (Historical fiction. 12-18)