Top critical review
Joan of Arc fantasy/Kingfountain prequel
Reviewed in the United States on July 4, 2018
I was not a fan of this book. I’ve read the 6 linear books of the Kingfountain series, and for some reason, thought this was going to be a prequel involving Ankarette Tyneowy, the original Queen’s Poisoner from the first Kingfountain book. Instead, I got a Joan of Arc historical fiction/fantasy which involved characters that weren’t in any the original 6 books (although “The Maid of Donremy” was referred to throughout the last few books), a very confusing war, and a plot that left me disappointed and regretting my decision to even starting to read this book. Ankarette does appear in this book, but only as a means to tell an even older story, and the story is actually compelling and interesting for the last 10%, which was great but not enough to redeem the first 90% of the book.
I learned I do not care at all for this Joan of Arc storyline – I do read a fair bit of historical fiction – Elizabeth Chadwick’s Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell series, Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series, and Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series and all of those have well developed characters and interesting storylines. The storyline and characters in this book are so disappointing in comparison – sure I’m comparing some of the best historical fiction to a fantasy series which is not quite fair, but this is clearly a Joan of Arc story and it should still have interesting characters! The character development of Genette, the Maid of Donremy (aka Joan of Arc) was completely lacking and the story was told from a male point of view so Genette came off as flat and cold and boring. If just part of the point of view came from Genette, I may have had a completely different experience, but as written she comes off as “holier than thou” and a bit uppity and annoying. The main character Alennsson, who is a Duke of some sort but I’m still not quite sure what “country” he is from, is also lacking a personality. I’m still not sure why he’s attached to this teenage girl – does he have feelings for her, or is he in awe of her power? None of this is really made clear.
Also, for an author who is gung-ho about making his fantasy books clean with no bad language, lewd behavior etc., it was interesting that he had to include the fact that they had to check that Genette, a young teenage girl, was a maid (meaning a virgin). This used to happen all the time back in medieval times, and is part of the Joan of Arc story, but I don’t find it relevant in this book and thought it was pointless to even mention it. Being a virgin doesn’t give the Maid magical superpowers, the “fountain” does. The author has creative license to change Joan of Arc’s story anyway he likes, which he does in a lot of other aspects, so why not this one where we don’t have to picture a teenage girl being subjected to a humiliating test? (Nothing graphic happens, it’s just a single line “The she will be tested by a woman to prove she is a maid”, but bugged me nonetheless).
And once again, the “fountain blessed” character (Genette) doesn’t seem to have any of her own free will and just blindly follows what the voice (of the fountain?) in her head tells her to do, making her character boring and predictable. This is at least the third female character in Jeff Wheeler’s books that does this (Lia in Legends of Muirwood series, Tryne in the last three Kingfountain, Genette here). I really wish this book had Genette’s point of view and that people were allowed to make mistakes and learn from them and be dynamic characters, like real-life people!
I have enjoyed some of Jeff Wheeler’s past books, especially the first three of the Kingfountain series and the Wretched of Muirwood, and have mixed feelings about the last three Kingfountain and the rest of the Legends of Muirwood. This book I strongly disliked and was bored by, and I’m thinking maybe I should have looked at the plot in more detail before starting and probably would have skipped. Some people may enjoy this book but it was a miss for me.