The choice of Mary Gordon to tell the story of the 15th-century soldier-saint Joan of Arc for its Penguin Lives series was an editorial inspiration. This accomplished novelist has the scholarly expertise, psychological sympathy and imaginative skill to make the narrative lively and credible. Though the series' brevity forces Gordon to select both scenes and characters economically, she never oversimplifies. She makes clear that this cocky, pure, maddening, unwise girl forgot herself in a cause greater than herself. Joan was talky and self-contradictory. To describe Joan in words is an impossible project, sure to be partial, sure to fail in some way. One of Gordon's strengths is that she recognizes this.