Women Writers Reading Challenge #45: Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

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I do not advise trying to read this book early in the morning before you’re fully awake because if you’re anything like me (i.e. you don’t speak French) the sheer amount of French names/places in this book will make your head spin. However, once you’re fully awake, if you’re interested in the history of this very special person, this book is definitely worth the read. What Helen Castor’s amazingly well-researched novel does particularly well is put the events of Joan’s tumultuous life into context. She starts the book, not with Joan’s appearance at court, but 15 years earlier, and by doing so she tries to show how Joan as a phenomenon–her epic rise and fall–was not only possible but plausible. As Castor says, the really interesting thing about Joan of Arc is her broad appeal–everyone can find something that appeals in her story. Castor attempts to rescue the woman out of the legend and the result is a portrait of a strong-willed, determined, and powerful woman. A good choice for anyone interested in European history.

2015 Women Writer’s Reading Challenge Book #12: She-Wolves by Helen Castor

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Normally I have a really hard time with history books because they focus a lot on things I don’t really care that much about: male power struggles over land and resources. I don’t deny that such things are worthy of study–I just don’t want to be the one who does it. I’m far more interested in history that delves into social and cultural aspects, and especially history that deals with women. Basically, I’m more interested in what people ate, read, wore, looked at, and who they loved then over political struggles.

This book was a welcome relief for me. It still talks about a lot of war/power struggling for context, but it still manages to keep my interest. Well-researched and presented in an interesting, readable format, Helen Castor’s book details the lives and struggles for power of four (well, seven really) women in times where men had the express right to rule. I really appreciate how complex Castor’s women are. Despite the lacking historical records, she manages to give her subjects depth. She is sympathetic, but is able to look at them for what they are, to stunning results. If you’re interested in English history, but wish it was a little more woman-centric, this is the book for you.