Reviewed by Sheila Jones (Greenridge Chronicles)
“Compiègne was under siege, outside the city’s walls, soldiers of the duchy of Burgundy kept close watch, making sure no supplies or reinforcements entered the French town. It was May 24, 1430, the ninety-third year of the Hundred Years War between England and France.”
And so begins Paul Thompson’s Joan of Arc: Warrior Saint of France. At first glance this is a very impressive book: tough, reinforced binding, gorgeously detailed pages, and glorious colours everywhere. And the second glance doesn’t disappoint either: the pages have been printed to look like an ancient manuscript, with catchy chapter headings (“Trust Not In Princes” “Trial And Errors” “Consigned To Flame”), colourful maps, artistic detailing, and picture after beautiful picture featuring France’s national heroine, la Pucelle.
Enslow Publishers, a K-12 library publishing company, feature this title in their very intriguing Biography section, where I noted that it was part of a series called Rulers of the Middle Ages (the other titles in the series being: Charlemagne, Richard the Lionheart, Ghengis Khan, William the Conqueror, and Saladin). And Paul Thompson has written this book with an eye to a high school audience. The details of Joan’s life are all here, from her humble beginnings, to her remarkable visions (and conversations with dead saints) and formidable skill at marshalling the people of France, to her eventual death by burning at the hands of the English, after a lengthy and distressingly unjust trial. But he doesn’t stop there – two chapters finish off Joan’s story: one detailing the efforts of her family to clear her name (and change the results of her trial) and the other traces her journey to eventual sainthood.
Basing the events of his narrative on the studies of several distinguished academic authors, Thompson presents an account of her life and death as it occurred within the tumult of war and nation-building in fifteenth century Europe. Why I say with an eye to a high-school audience is because his historical account glosses over some of the more, err, sordid aspects in the history of the French and English monarchy. There is just enough detail but nothing overly gratuitous, for which I have to say I was thankful; this is not a story with a happy ending. In addition, Thompson includes many historical details on everything from French laws to the history of the longbow to the process of canonization, not to mention a pretty thorough glossary and timeline. I did wonder at his dismissal of Saints Catherine and Margaret, not to mention his reasons for this dismissal, but that’s just a small quibble, and one easily ignored. This book has lots of information for someone writing a student paper, there’s no doubt about that. Plus, it’s so beautiful in appearance that it can’t help but capture its audience. It’s a fascinating biography of a peculiarly enigmatic figure in the history books; I found myself unable to put it down and ended up finishing it in one evening. I highly recommend it.
ISBN: 978-0766027169 | Enslow Publishers 2007 | Buy from an independent bookstore | Buy from Amazon