Review of The Language of Fire: Joan of Arc Reimagined

The Language of Fire: Joan of Arc Reimagined
by Stephanie Hemphill
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    495 pp.
6/19    978-0-06-249011-7    $17.99

In this engrossing first-person, present-tense verse novel, Hemphill (Your Own, Sylvia, rev. 3/07; Hideous Love, rev. 9/13) reimagines the fifteenth-century life of French martyr Joan of Arc. Readers follow “Jehanne” from age thirteen when she’s first called by God as the prophesized “La Pucelle” (or Virgin Maid) who will save France, to leading troops on the battlefields of Orléans and Compiègne, to triumphantly seeing the dauphin crowned king — before she is burned at the stake by the English at age nineteen. Hemphill repeatedly emphasizes Jehanne’s unwavering faith in her mission and in God, highlighting the young woman’s remarkable fortitude in the face of impossible odds. As a female commoner living among men, donning men’s clothes, and marching into battle, Jehanne challenged the period’s accepted gender roles, an empowering example for today’s young readers. Hemphill’s spare, propulsive free verse reinforces Jehanne’s passion for her unconventional life: “I belong among / these men-at-arms / like water belongs / in the sea”; the intimate narrative style humanizes Jehanne and makes her a sympathetic and relatable figure, even over six hundred years later. Hemphill skillfully incorporates historical facts into her poems, with an author’s note acknowledging when invention was necessary. Additional context for this French/English conflict — the Hundred Years War — is provided in the front and back matter, which also includes a list of monarchs and a bibliography. For another recent YA verse novel about Joan of Arc, see David Elliott’s Voices (rev. 3/19).

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University.

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