An Army of Angels, Pamela Marcantel's novel about Joan of Arc, is rather poorly written. It's not a terrible book, as the events of the story are inherently compelling enough to establish a baseline level of quality, but it's still pretty sucky. But just as there are different ways that writing can be very good — the language can be lyrical, or hilarious, or so transparent that the story seems to be transpiring before the reader's eyes — it can also be bad in many different ways, and it took me a while to put my finger on exactly how An Army of Angels was bad. And then it hit me. It's fanfic. Joan of Arc fanfic. It might as well be Scully of Arc fighting for King Mulder VII.

And it wasn't just the general awkwardness, the frequent resort to summary and speech tags like "Trémoïlle asked with heavy sarcasm," that led me to this conclusion. No, what I realized was this: what does most fanfic try to do, at least in my (admittedly quite limited) experience? It takes an established narrative milieu and attempts to spell out the stuff that the original glosses over. Fanfic builds vast multi-part epics about characters who appear for thirty seconds on a TV show, or speculates about mundane stuff like what a particular supporting character might order for dinner. And that seems to be the case here. Marcantel has nothing especially interesting to say about Joan's path through history, and evinces a very shaky grasp of what made Joan tick. What does she bring to the table, then? Faces. Marcantel seems almost obsessive about taking minor, tangential characters in Joan's story like Hamish Power and Richard the Archer and describing their faces. And not even with a memorable phrase, but by rattling off a list of their features: this kind of eyes, that kind of nose, etc. It's one of the things prose is worst at — a thousand words can't even come close to doing what a picture can, at least not literal ones — but still, we get an endless litany of howlers like this description of Franquet d'Arras: "He was muscular and rather short, and had ink black hair with bushy eyebrows that overhung a pointed, remorseless nose." I encourage you to examine the next few people you encounter and decide for yourself how remorseful their noses are.

I don't mean this as a mere slam — Marcantel certainly deserves points for having attempted a narrative about Joan that includes pretty much every last detail that crops up in the histories. But the result of her attempt is more suited for alt.joanofarc.creative than a bookstore.

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