The Book of Joan has the same unflinching quality as earlier works by Josephine Saxton, Doris Lessing, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin and J. G. Ballard. Yet it’s also radically new, full of maniacal invention and page-turning momentum ... But while Herbert’s writing, especially in the later Dune books, was marked by an airless abstraction, Yuknavitch’s prose is passionate and lyrical, very much in the moment. Fusing grand themes and the visceral details of daily life, she offers a revisionist corrective that shows the influence of writers like Clarice Lispector and Angela Carter. Like Carter, Yuknavitch writes about the body with an easy intimacy ... a rich, heady concoction, rippling with provocative ideas. There is nothing in The Book of Joan that is not a great gift to Yuknavitch’s readers, if only they are ready to receive it.
The ideas in this book are spine-tinglingly good. Yuknavitch conjures a dystopia that feels at once outlandish and resonantly true. This is what great speculative fiction is supposed to do, offer catharsis for our anxieties about the future; anticipate and indulge our deepest fears about technology, and the surveillance state, and censorship, and climate change ... Yuknavitch is far from the only writer to tap into Joan of Arc’s soldier mythos in response to current events...But [her] re-telling stands out as uniquely vivid and electrifying ... the idea of living the next four years without stories like The Book of Joan would be a lot more boring, and painful. On the question of whether Yuknavitch will join the ranks of George Orwell and Margaret Atwood as an important voice in speculative fiction: I cast my vote for yes.
This book covers a lot of ground (and dirt) with varying degrees of narrative and conceptual success, but to detail which parts work and which don’t risks spoiling a story that can be riveting if difficult to piece together from its strands of sky and smears of blood and mud ... I think the book is trying to wed hard-nosed materialism with bodily celebration and recuperation of the sentimental. It would be impressive if it pulled it off, but I’m not sure it does ... If the book stumbles on the intersection of 'difference' feminism, gender theory, and trans issues, that hardly makes it less relevant to conflicts arising in women’s resistance movements today.
Once the reader accepts the incongruities and phantasmagorical exaggerations of Yuknavitch’s damning nightmare, the book offers a wealth of pathos, with plenty of resonant excruciations and some disturbing meditations on humanity’s place in creation ... Yuknavitch delivers no straight-up cinematic battles, chases or confrontations, but always mixes in digressive, reflective philosophizing with her action scenes ... The Book of Joan concludes in a bold and satisfying apotheosis like some legend out of The Golden Bough and reaffirms that even amid utter devastation and ruin, hope can still blossom.
One of the pleasures of The Book of Joan is its take-no-prisoners disregard for genre boundaries. Its searing fusion of literary fiction and reimagined history and science-fiction thriller and eco-fantasy make it a kind of sister text to Jeff VanderMeer's ineffable Southern Reach trilogy. Yuknavitch is a bold and ecstatic writer, wallowing in sex and filth and decay and violence and nature and love with equal relish ... The effect is dizzying and, at times, disorienting, but there is always a vibrant forward motion to the text, and a ferocious, unmistakable perspective: Even in the wreckage of a post-human nightmare, humanity never really changes.
From this ecologically-minded update of Joan of Arc Lidia Yuknavitch creates a masterful book that is concerned with the stories we tell ourselves, and how we choose to tell those stories. When humanity is at its endpoint, facing its ultimate destruction, what story will we whisper into the dark? ... As the book twists and turns and changes shape it becomes far less the familiar story of a young girl leading a war, or becoming a nation’s sacrificial lamb, and becomes much more about women having control over what is done to their bodies ... This would all maybe seem too on-the-nose if it wasn’t for Yuknavitch’s stunning writing. This book is terrifying. The lushness of her prose, the way she describes pain and fear, and above all the utter hopelessness that she expresses through her characters, who are all looking at what might be the end of humanity, makes TBOJ, at times, a difficult read. But I would say it’s a necessary read.
As a story, The Book of Joan is something new altogether. The characters moralize. They give speeches, they lay out their philosophical views, and they seldom act in ways that contradict their beliefs. So, the effect is like that of reading a comic book ― or medieval text ― infused with lines of perfect poetry ... This book will appeal less to readers interested in worldbuilding and in individuals navigating future social systems ― a la Ursula K. Le Guin, more anthropologist than philosopher. It is, instead, an homage to an idol, an ode to a way of life, and a warning about mistreating the earth and each other. All of that’s wrapped up in a voice that’s uniquely Yuknavitch’s, which is worth reading for alone.
I am sorry to report that Yuknavitch misses the mark, and we all go flying into the void ... Perhaps film will prove a better vehicle for the loose, concrete description-light Book of Joan. As a novel, though, it feels rushed and not fleshed out to the measure it deserves. Believe me, I want a Joan of Arc-inspired female messiah as much as the next person. But not like this.
Perhaps the state of American life explains the explosive power of The Book of Joan, or perhaps it’s the other way around; perhaps, at last, American life is ready for Lidia Yuknavitch ... Yuknavitch leans on the significance of these figures’ histories, but she does not depend on it. She draws on old, old stories, the tales humans have been telling each other since stories were illuminated on parchment, and before. Further, each character possesses a sacred relationship to narrative, which is treated as a sacrament throughout the novel ... By rejecting Western patterns of narrative, and by embracing and repositioning figures from those patterns, Yuknavitch makes The Book of Joan one of the boldest novels yet of the 21st century.
Intent on finding a language for the body, Yuknavitch attempts to draw on nature writing, gender studies, and the theater, but these strains are poorly synthesized and result in a sloppy and confusing text; readers may struggle to figure out just what Joan’s powers are and how she came by them, for instance. The novel is most memorable from a thematic standpoint, particularly its insistence that 'the body is a real place. A territory as vast as Earth.'”
This highly literary novel does contain elements of speculative fiction — exotic technology, Joan’s otherworldly abilities and a future humanity’s radically altered biology — yet Yuknavitch does not just speculate, she extrapolates, and sheds light on our current predicament. The disasters endured by the Earth in The Book of Joan differ from our potential future only by a matter of degree ... The Book of Joan is a novel that embodies rather than explains its philosophy of writing. Yuknavitch exquisitely renders pain, terror and ecstasy with prose that feels incised. If this novel is about our present moment and our potential future, it is also about the present and future of writing.
In The Book of Joan, Yuknavitch creates a Joan free of Catholicism's trappings, but manages to maintain, and even elevate, the moral and ethical stakes that made her a compelling historical heroine to begin with ... What Yuknavitch does by reviving the myth of Joan in the face of utmost climate change, is center the female body as the site of destruction and also as the driving source of power for salvation. She endows Joan with powers that only men have in the Bible, subverting the myths of patriarchal authority that undergird it.