- Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-328-98759-4 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-358-04915-9 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 10 up
Resonant over seven centuries is the tragedy of Jeanne, or Joan, the fifteenth-century peasant/visionary/warrior who fought on behalf of French king Charles VII, and was betrayed by the very monarch whose reign she reclaimed from British invaders. Elliott opens his poetic sequence with a quotation from the Trial of Nullification that posthumously restored Joan’s honor, followed by a verse prologue, “The Candle,” in which Fire declares its passion for the beloved it will shortly consume. Through ensuing poems crafted in forms used in and around the historical period (explained in closing notes that categorize the poems), Elliott reconstructs events and attitudes that led to Joan’s military triumphs and, ultimately, to her trial and execution (with a special emphasis on her gender nonconfirmity). Joan’s thoughts are almost conversational, in simple left-justified verse with rhyme skillfully embedded within lines. Persons, objects, and intangible forces add testimonies both damning and exculpating, often in poetic forms that underscore their relationships or pattern poems that mirror their shapes. Several people who at various points exert guardianship over Joan share sestina form, with italicized words that define their worldview dancing through their verses. A trio of weapons comment in shaped triolets: the Pitchfork rues its recruitment into warfare, Charles Martel’s sword wants to return to rest, and Joan’s first sword seethes with outrage and lust over the Maid who dares to handle it. The title closes, as it opens, with a summary epilogue on the elusive meaning of Joan’s quest and a quote from a cleric present at Joan’s execution who could not bear to witness her death, allowing readers to [End Page 295] respectfully avert their eyes from the immolation as well. Teens moved by Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa (BCCB 4/16) will shift readily from her historical fiction to Elliott’s creative historical account of a young woman who answered a norm-shattering higher call.