Monday, August 19, 2013

Review: The Maid and the Queen by Nancy Goldstone

The author of Four Queens offers a mesmerizing account of two extraordinary heroines who risked everything for France Joan of Arc, the brave peasant girl who heard the voices of angels and helped restore her king to the throne of France, astonished her contemporaries and continues to fascinate us today. Until now, though, her relationship with Yolande of Aragon, the ambitious and beautiful queen of Sicily—mother-in-law to the dauphin—has been little known. In a stunning work filled with intrigue, madness, and mysticism, Nancy Goldstone solves the thrilling mystery by showing that if you pry open the Queen's secrets, you will find the Maid's. Caught in the complex dynastic battle of the Hundred Years War, Yolande of Aragon championed the dauphin's cause. As French hopes dimmed, a courageous young woman arrived from the farthest recesses of the kingdom. But how did she gain an audience with a king? Was it only God's hand that moved Joan of Arc—or was it also Yolande of Aragon's?

Received for review.

Before I start I'm just going to come right out and say that, even after this book, I still think Joan of Arc was a complete whack job no matter what she accomplished.  Okay, there were are.  Now on to the review.  :)

So, I'm not a huge Joan of Arc fan but I do enjoy history, and especially French history since that is where my family came from originally, so I decided to give this a whirl.  I have to say that I was really rather pleasantly surprised.  I found it to be less of a "rah, rah Joan of Arc was awesome" than a "look at all the fascinating things that happened around her" book.  There were descriptions of her ... experiences, but they weren't the focus of the book.  There was a lot of political wrangling during the period (obviously) and the book covered it, along with the accounts of battle, quite well and made them really rather readable.

The most interesting parts were the descriptions of Yolande of Aragon's interactions with the main players and her influence upon the situation.  I really had no idea of her level of influence before reading the book and found the author's information, while on the dry side, extremely illuminating.  She was really an amazing woman and really rather more interesting than Joan herself.

The writing was a bit drier and more textbook quality than I would have preferred and I found myself nodding off quite a few times, but the subject matter is really rather dry itself and it is extremely difficult to perk up descriptions of the battlefield and the political maneuvering so it is not truly a failing on the author's part.  It does, however, make for a book that unintentionally acts rather as a sleeping pill.

Whether you are interested in Joan of Arc or French history in general you will find this an interesting, if scholarly, read.  I certainly recommend it.

★★☆☆ = Liked It


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