I have to be honest, I am not a person that has always loved Wonder Woman (I’m not really a comic book person and I have a lot of issues with the misogyny around them). Regardless, I’ve gotten pretty interested in the new iterations, if you will, of her story. I went to see the new Wonder Woman movie because I had literally heard nothing bad about it (and it definitely lived up to the hype). And then this book was essentially an auto-buy for me because of the author (and how cool for her to have the chance to write something like this?!). So I can’t pretend that I am anywhere in the ranks of the “we liked WW before she was cool” population. However, I can say that I have always loved stories of the Amazons (one of my favorite books is The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier – I recommend it) and, in general, Greek (or any) mythology. So the return of WW to the pop culture mainstream, and my realization of how closely her story intertwines with some of my favorite myths and gods, has got me jumping on the WW bandwagon pretty hard.
“Sister in battle, I am shield and blade to you. As I breathe, your enemies will know no sanctuary. While I live, your cause is mine.”
I’d like to just start by saying this book was pretty much everything I wanted it to be. As per usual for Bardugo, the pacing and writing itself were on point. The plot moved quickly enough that I never wanted to put the story down, but not so fast that I felt rushed. The relationships were introduced and developed at a reasonable pace at each point of the story, changing speeds and comfort as necessary for what the plot realistically called for. This goes for the pre-set connections (like those between Nim and Theo and Alia) and the new ones that are created as Diana enters. The mix of reality and mythology was balanced in a super interesting way. That piece was the part I was most apprehensive about going in (I truly dislike stories where that interaction is not well handled and I didn’t want that to happen here), but I shouldn’t be surprised that Bardugo nailed it. The mix of genetics/technology with lore/legend honestly seemed possible within the context, which is so impressive. And I loved loved loved the ending. I didn’t see the twist coming (always a good thing) and the defeat of the “big bad,” if you will, the use of the strength of the connection among the Amazons, was perfectly creative and inspiring and lady strong. Yessssss. I also thought the post-denouement ending, when Diana travels back to Themyscira and speaks with the Oracle again brought everything to a close in this story and set up the next chapter (in my mind, I’m thinking about the movie as the next chapter) flawlessly. And I was also happy with the way things were left between Diana and her mortal friends – it’s real and emotional and not contrived to make anything easier. I turned the last page with a giant, satisfied smile on my face.
The diversity in this cast of characters was commendable – by race, sexuality, interests and skills. The feeling of being an outsider, the need to “be quiet, be careful, hold in your anger” that Jason and Alia’s parents preached in everyday life due to their position and the color of their skin paralleled those same cautions for them as they realized their “other” sides as well. It was a skillfully developed parallelism. And its continuance, Alia’s journey to be comfortable and in control of her power, for herself as a girl, a scientist, a Warbringer, really strikes a beautiful feminist chord. Similarly, Diana’s coming of age (and, to a lesser extent, Nim and Theo’s as well) and the different ways they each learned to accept and celebrate who they are and what they can do, regardless of who knows it, is uplifting. Plus, the power of strong female friendships that Bardugo celebrates here is something we all want and aspire to – it’s beautiful. It’s exactly what one looks for in a well written YA adventure, particularly one about such a famous female figure as young Diana, as she grows into her own as the Wonder Woman heroine that we all recognize and know.
I have some questions, after finishing (vaguely, to avoid spoilers)… Isn’t is possible for Jason (or someone else) to re-start his research? I feel like this ending (while well done) is not necessarily a full stop conclusion to the situation. Also, and likely my biggest question/complaint, was what Diana meant when she said ‘Let’s say I let you believe what I wanted you to believe.’? I thought she had just finished saying that she hadn’t seen the “twist” coming either, so how could she have prepared anything in response? Unless it was just that she was saying, in the moment she yelled “No!” that she knew what might happen and the advantage it’d give her and wanted to trick it into definitely happening…in which case I think that just wasn’t clear enough in the moment. And reading back over that, it’s not even very clear here, either… Regardless, both are small things that overall didn’t change how awesome this adventure was.
The only other thing I want to say, referencing both Wonder Woman the movie and this novel, is that I just wish there was more time spent on Themyscira. I mean I loved both the movie and the book, but I feel like it’s not too much to ask to hear more about the rest of the Amazons on the island, about their stories, about their lives together. That’s where my heart truly lies, and I just wish I could spend more time there. However, that doesn’t take anything away from these works – and they both (but particularly Warbringer, since that’s what this review is actually about) get my full recommendation.
Just a couple favorite quotes/moments I marked and wanted to share:
“They were all pieces of the lives the Amazons had led before they came to the island, little landscapes of the heart.”
“It’s the people who never learn the word impossible who make history, because they’re the ones who keep trying.”
“We can’t help the way we’re born. We can’t help what we are, only what life we choose to make for ourselves.”
“Diana hooted in triumph as her feet met the path, sprinting higher to where the trees were sparse, their trunks bent and twisted by the wind. They looked like women, frozen in a mad dance, the tangle of their hair tossed forward in abandon, their backs arched in ecstasy or bent in supplication, a processional of dancers that led Diana up the mountainside.”