Both Helen Castor’s deep knowledge of, and passion for, Joan of Arc shine through in this excellent book covering not only the iconic parts of Joan of Arc’s life, but also the decades before and after it. Castor makes the case for such contextualising being so vital to truly understand Joan of Arc in her introduction to the book, and I’m thoroughly convinced she was correct after finishing it.
Joan of Arc’s life and actions feel so much meaningful when one can place them in their correct context and truly understand her importance and the environment she was acting in. Similarly, her impact is best understood after examining the decades (and indeed, centuries) after her death. While looking at the most iconic parts of her life in a vacuum still reveals a compelling figure, she shines all the brighter when understanding her properly in context.
Castor is clearly an expert when it comes to history of the time, but she keeps the actual text itself compelling and evenly-paced. There’s a great deal of endnotes, but reading the text straight through works just fine; it’s all perfectly cohesive. Very readable. While it might not be as arresting or immediately engaging as some livelier and more dynamic works focused solely on the greatest events of Joan’s life, this is undoubtedly the more definitive, fair, and accurate way to cover her life and impact. I do regret that so much of her youth isn’t touched on though. I understand Castor stuck to the most historically verifiable aspects of the text, but her insistence that much of the soul and truth of Joan as a person has been lost in the rush to historicise her for so many divergent purposes feels at odds with how little baseline characterisation she gets here. I appreciate the devotion to accuracy, but it leaves the titular figure something of an enigma.
I give the book four kings, and a peasant girl.