The Book of Joan is a dystopian tale with more than a hint of feminism. Joan (of Arc) is back but with more prowess than you have ever seen more. Gender-defying, as well as challenging time and space, the historical character of Joan of Arc is given several extra constructs that can cause you to lose the history. In the world of this book, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground, and humans have regrouped to platform CIEL, fleeing the exposed radioactivity, and unending violence.
Author of the National Bestselling novels The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children, Lidia Yuknavitch is also winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award’s Ken Kesey Award for Fiction as well as the Reader’s Choice Award. Her widely acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water was a finalist for a PEN Center USA award for creative nonfiction and winner of a PNBA Award and the Oregon Book Award Reader’s Choice. Her nonfiction book based on her TED Talk, The Misfit’s Manifesto, is forthcoming from TED Books.
Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises cult leader Jean de Men, who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. As you expect with this type of tale, a group of rebels unite to break the extreme rule, obviously galvanized by the heroic song of Joan. It’s definitely refreshing to see this type of story heralded and led by a women, When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are unprecedented. And the story takes many twists and turns throughout the novel, many of which are unpredictable. But these are not always easy to follow, and I often get distracted or put the novel down, as it does not have the flow or the page-turnability I tend to expect from these dystopias, as to be honest, they are often my go-to fiction.
A riveting tale, with much to love, The Book of Joan is somewhat disappointing, after all the acclaim surrounding it. There is an emotional disconnect, with little exploration of character, which means as a reader you feel like you are skirting around the synopsis. Lidia Yuknavitch raises questions about what it means to be human, the fluidity of gender, but sadly lacked fleshing this out. With much potential I will keep an eye out on future releases.
The Book of Joan is out now, published by Canongate.