(Reviewed by Melanie Hamilton)
In Kaye Michelle’s provocative and inspiring novel, Return of the Heroine, West Point Cadet Jane Archer has a problem: Should she do what’s right or save her career? The daughter of senior counsel to Providence Rhode Island’s DA, Jane is planning a career in the Army Judge Advocate General’s office. Serving the JAG office would give her the opportunity to help those in trouble with the Army, more than she could as a West Point cadet. Could she risk that, though, when the women under her command are being violated by the silence of soldiers.
It’s 1993. “That reminds me…Jane,” her father says on the eve of her journey to the Point, “you know our rule about keeping the drinking down when you are in mixed company. I’ve seen too many nice girls get hurt and the asshole—excuse my French—the perp claims she was drunk and the case crumbles. Promise?” her Dad asks. It is a pertinent question. As a cadet battalion commander, she is responsible for the quality of lives among her cadets. But, some of those cadets are women, women who have endured what is considered the right of soldiers—rape.
Against the backdrop of Cadet Archer’s West Point challenges, we peer deeply into the faith and circumstance of Jehanne, Joan of Arc. We see what the two women have in common: longing for love, dedication to their warriorship, and passion for doing what is right. They are both women in a world of men, and especially one in which women are prizes rather than partners. For Jehanne, another world threatens. The Church also lays claim to her body to do with as they wish, in the name of a greater good.
I appreciate how both women are shown to reach out to inner guidance when they are faced with difficult decisions. Both Jehanne and Jane reach inward for guidance from Archangel Michael, the Warrior Angel. Everything works out perfectly, even if it doesn’t appear so. We wouldn’t think that being burned at the stake is a perfect ending, but the author brings us to that conclusion through Jehanne’s story. We see how her faith and her intention to save France and serve her king are only the outer part of her life. Her greater goal is for her life to have meaning to others– for the sacrifices and betrayals to guide others into greater works of their own. And it does.
For Jane Archer, these momentary slips through time into Jehanne’s life help guide her through the dilemma of choosing the greater good, when that choice betrays other loyalties, especially the lives of the victims.
Moving between Joan of Arc’s first-person account of her life as it led to the pyre and the events of Jane’s life, Kaye Michelle brings us the lives of two different kinds of heroines and in doing so extends an invitation to us to embrace our own inner guidance to become the heroines in our own lives.
This is not a casual read. It is, however, an engaging one. I listen to most books on my Kindle, with its text-to-speech feature. Without text cues to guide me, I found listening to be as exciting as if I had been reading the book myself. Michelle paints vivid settings and her characters step off the page. According to the author’s notes, some liberties were taken, –but nothing is so distorted that the changes interfere with the feeling of history
made vivid. My only difficulty was with the prologue. It was disorienting to be dumped into Jehanne’s world when I didn’t know Jane’s world yet.
In spite of that, I highly recommend Return of the Heroine . It is noteworthy for its relevance to issues today, as more and more women and vulnerable men are joining military service.