BookBrowse Reviews The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Maid

A Novel of Joan of Arc

by Kimberly Cutter

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2012, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A novel about the girl who led an army, the peasant who crowned a king, the maid who became a legend

Kimberly Cutter's debut novel is a gritty, absorbing exploration of the life of Joan of Arc. As Cutter explains in her afterword, Joan of Arc is one of the most written about women in history, yet I'm not aware of any that capture the essence of Joan's journey the way Cutter does.

The novel follows Joan's life closely, and Cutter often uses phrases from Joan's actual conversations and correspondence in her dialogue. Despite its accuracy and the adherence to the historical record, this delightful novel is very much fiction, taking the reader into the heart and mind of one of history's most fascinating women.

Cutter's success in creating a believable Joan of Arc begins with her ability to illustrate the setting. The novel's palette is muddy brown and dingy gray. Joan begins life on a dreary farm that is occasionally punctuated by the brilliance of a bright day or a waving daffodil, but most of the environment is dour, depressing. The English and Burgundians (Northern French who sided with the English during the Hundred Years' War) have pummeled the countryside, seizing small towns and terrorizing people in their homes. Cutter does not flinch from describing this subsistence society in all of its disturbing detail. This was a pre-modern world and the common people were dirty. Joan, herself, is a messy, unkempt girl with bright, almost feverish, eyes. Her father is abusive and her mother ineffectual. After her sister leaves, Joan faces a cheerless life that she fears, will evolve into a numbing marriage. And then she sees Saint Michael in the garden.

The setting is coarse, the parents are problematic, the girl is special but unloved, and then the girl is saved from her life by what seems like magic and all becomes well - kind of. If this plot sounds familiar, it should because The Maid has the atmosphere of a fairy tale. As Joan sloughs off the remnants of her poor, meager life as a farmer's daughter to become vanquisher of the English (at least for a time), she credits all of her success to "the voices" that visit her. Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, and Saint Michael, as well as God himself, visit Joan to brief her on her mission and to assist her on her way. Though many in Joan's own time took these visions as fact, it is hard for modern readers to go along with this part of the story. Cutter anticipates this disbelief and artfully rides the line between Joan as Saint, Joan as Witch, and Joan as Insane - all theories that were actually investigated during Joan's lifetime. The result is marvelous: Cutter realizes that in order to create a realistic story, she must provide for each interpretation of Joan's persona in order for the character to have merit with readers.

At the heart of the novel, however, is the Joan that Cutter creates, one that arises from imagination, not the historical record. This Joan is frightened, tired, nervous about her position, and desires a different kind of life. She is driven by her intense relationship with God, but is saddened that she'll never know love or have children. As we see her interacting with others - saying and doing things the real Joan is reputed to have said and done - we are also provided with the internal dialogue, the constant stream of questioning and terror, that runs through Joan's mind. Cutter's ability to present a believable internal portrait that seamlessly corresponds with the outward depiction - one that was largely determined by history - makes for an impressive picture of Joan of Arc. Historical novels about real people are notoriously tricky because it is impossible to know what they actually thought. The best anyone can do is make educated guesses based on the available evidence. Cutter's guesses are excellent, and I came away from the novel feeling as though I had learned about the real Joan of Arc, rather than merely a fictional one. Of course, it is perilous to take historical fact from historical fiction, but when the author is so successful in her creation, you find yourself doing it anyway.

This review was originally published in November 2011, and has been updated for the October 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Hundred Years' War

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -