Reviews: An Army of Angels

Florence King, The National Review – August 11, 1997

“It is only fair to warn you that this review will violate the standards of objectivity, detachment, and ironic distance demanded by literary criticism. I’ve reviewed many books that I’ve liked and some that I’ve loved, but this time I have a masterpiece on my hands and I’m still reeling from it…An Army of Angels is surely a labor of love, but it is also high drama on a par with Victor Hugo and classical tragedy, laid out with the precision timing of seasoned stagecraft, graced throughout by a command of the English language that brings me to my knees.”

The Washington Post – April 24, 1997

“First-time novelist Pamela Marcantel…has chosen Jehanne (Joan of Arc) as her central character in this sprawling, multifaceted novel that depicts the life and times, splendors and brutality of France in the early 15th century…Marcantel paints a brilliant scene of the great hall of Chinon Castle, the seat of the dauphin’s exile…Marcantel spells out in searing detail the many trials Jehanne must overcome to convince the dauphin that she is chosen by God…After the girl’s veracity has been established, the author moves into vivid and persuasive depictions of battle…The book reaches a powerful climax with Jehanne’s trial in Rouen…This is a very long book, but in such scenes as the trial of Jehanne the author’s thoroughness is vindicated. An Army of Angels has many rewards.”

Kirkus Reviews – January 15, 1997 (starred review)

“A great sweep of a debut that vividly illuminates history and religious faith as it tells the story of Joan of Arc, the saint with an attitude, who restored France to the French. With the proper research buttons pushed, first-novelist Marcantel offers a bracing story of the young woman who fought battles, temporal and spiritual, and inspired a King and an army, only to be burned at the stake. This is no revisionist tale: Joan is not some proto-feminist bent on changing society but, rather, a deeply devout young woman who loves her country, her king, and, above all, her God. Agreeably, she is not cloyingly pious either, and it is to Marcantel’s immense credit that she makes Joan so credible a figure: a saint but also a woman who is frequently impatient, sometimes bad-tempered, even willful, but always remarkable.

“The story of her short but brilliant journey to fame and martyrdom begins on a summer’s day when the 13-year-old Joan, out in her peasant family’s garden, senses a tremendous Presence and is then addressed by voices as “the Daughter of God who was born for glory on earth and in Heaven.” These voices counsel and comfort the maturing Joan, who is anguished by her countrymen’s suffering under the English overlords and their allies. Heeding their advice, she dresses as a young man, rallies veteran soldiers, leads an army to victory, and emboldens the uncrowned French King to reclaim his kingdom. But her fall is as fast as her rise: The English put a price on her head, and the king refuses to fight. Her voices fall silent, and a farce of a trial is followed by a brutal rape and the death sentence. Joan, though, will regain her faith and power long enough to shame all those who watch her die.

“Historical fiction of the best kind; intelligent, lively, and persuasive.”

Library Journal (Dec. 11, 1996) – 01/24/97

“Joan of Arc is as much a blend of legend and history as King Arthur, and as with Arthur, stories of her spirit and courage are eternally embedded in our psyche. In her first novel, Marcantel resurrects the mysterious Jehanne, the Maid of Orleans, whose devotion to God led her to be burned at the stake for witchcraft before she is 20…Jehanne is arrogant, insolent, quick to anger, and intolerant of human frailty. Often questioning her own worthiness, she is obstinate in fulfilling her mission, making her at times very difficult to like but very human. Rich with historical facts and vivid narrative, this work is highly recommended…”

Publishers Weekly (Dec. 2, 1996) – 01/24/97

“Extensively researched, Marcantel’s earnest retelling of the story of Joan of Arc traces the saint’s life from her childhood to her fiery death, keeping the labyrinthine politics of the age clearly delineated at all times…Marcantel knows and clearly loves her history…”

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