Book Review: An Army of Angels (Pamela Marcantel) : MH

An Army of Angels, by Pamela Marcantel, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1997, $24.95.

Whether the reader believes in her “voices” or not, history tells us that a teenage girl–now known as Joan of Arc–came to the rescue of a woefully shrunken France and led a beleaguered princeling’s forces to victory against the English.

Some may argue that the French dauphin’s generals usually pointed the way, and then the girl in shining armor took the lead. To the contrary, she often countermanded their orders and, in one victory after another, found her own way. She reacted to the shifting tide of battle in a fashion that could not have been anticipated under the advance orders. It does seem unbelievable–a leap of faith, even–that this untutored country girl could have been such a consummate leader of men on the battlefield.

The story of Joan of Arc, the “Maid of Orléans,” is again told–and told remarkably well–in a recently published novel, An Army of Angels, by Pamela Marcantel. But the work is fiction only to a point, for Marcantel has based her very human story upon a considerable body of known fact. “Virtually every event in the novel, and much of the dialogue,” the author explains in an endnote, “is based on historical fact.”

Marcantel deftly retells the military history associated with Joan’s brief career as savior of France. The author also manages to weave a wondrous, detailed tapestry depicting everyday life in medieval France. And she is quite effective, even moving, in presenting the spiritual side of Joan, who, ultimately, did pay a martyr’s price for her faith and perseverance.

After all these centuries and many retellings on paper, stage and screen, Marcantel tells Joan’s story sensitively and accurately, depicting this historical figure–peasant girl, martyr and future saint–whom Winston Churchill, among many admirers, once called “a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years.”

C. Brian Kelly

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