My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 384 pages
Release date: 29 August 2017
Diana is desperate to prove herself to her warrior sisters. But when the opportunity comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law to save a mere mortal, Alia Keralis.
With this single heroic act, Diana may have just doomed the world.
Alia is a Warbringer – a descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery. Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies, mortal and divine, determined to destroy or possess the Warbringer.
To save the world, they must stand side by side against the tide of war.
“My name is Diana.”
Jason took the soda bottle from Alia. “Diana what?”
She answered without thinking. “Diana, Princess of—”
“Diana Prince,” Alia said hurriedly. “Her name is Diana Prince.”
“Yes,” said Diana, grateful for the rescue, even if she was still angry at Alia. “Diana Prince.”
It took until her third series, but I’ve been converted: Leigh Bardugo is worthy of the hype. Wonder Woman: Warbringer fulfils just about everything that could be expected from it, like an elaborate juggling act keeping five or six balls suspended in the air at a time and ultimately succeeding at catching them all. The book reminds me of a more mature Percy Jackson, complete with Greek mythology, a road-trip quest given by the Oracle, and lighthearted friendships forged in the fire of overcoming life-and-death situations together. And the end result is awesome.
I could gush all day about how great the characters are. At the centre of it you’ve got Diana and Alia Keralis, the two narrators of the book. I love them both. Diana undergoes the conventional “superhero realises what it truly means to be a superhero” journey in a very unconventional way. Bardugo manages to pull out the usual stops when it comes to Wonder Woman–the youthful idealism, the fish-out-of-water humour, the image of Diana deflecting bullets with her bracelets as she runs around fighting baddies (dope!)–while adding a uniquely YA spin to it. I was, like many others, initially skeptical to hear that DC was bringing their bondage fetishist icon to the world of Young Adult Fantasy, but hey, it’s worked out far better than I dared to hope.
Some reviewers have taken issue with the lightness of the book’s tone on the grounds that it detracts from the weight of Diana’s story, but I think it makes the meatier character development moments stand out so much more. (Plus, on a somewhat related note, guess which DC movie’s been the most successful so far. Yep, turns out that we like our superhero stories to be fun. Who would’ve known?? Hint: it starts with an M and rhymes with Garble. But I’m getting off track here.) In my eyes, Warbringer nails the tone of a contemporary superhero/coming-of-age novel.
Alia, a human instead of an Amazon, with a curse instead of a gift, holds her own as a protagonist. The eponymous Warbringer, she’s confounded at the age of 17 with the knowledge that her continued existence will take millions of lives unless she purifies herself at the Menelaion within about a week with some of Earth’s best assassins and several immortal deities standing in her way. No pressure. Alia grows in a heartfelt, realistic way over the course of the novel, from a timid yet rebellious teenager sheltered by her overprotective brother to, well, something more and so, so much better. I won’t spoil it.
Then there’s Jason, who might just be my favourite Bardugo character yet. (Sorry, Alina/Darkling/Kaz/Inej/others.) I’ll just say that he is leagues beyond the trust fund heir/science nerd hybrid that she could have gotten away with writing him as. The relationship between Alia and Jason is a wonderfully written, complicated sibling dynamic, but it’s no match to the relationships between Alia, Diana, and Nim, which provide a much-needed portrayal of the strength in girls collaborating as friends. Add in Jason and Theo, who are developed with the same level of nuance, although with less depth as they don’t have POV chapters. Each of the squad’s individual qualities are so different, down to their talents and ways of looking at the world, that you really get the sense that they could do anything if only they worked together.
The little romance we get (it’s not a big component of the book) is perfectly-timed, neither cringey nor a detraction from the plot. Both “couples” are kind of sweet, but neither are properly relationships, which makes sense considering that the timeframe of the novel is slightly more than a week on a hectic quest to save the world. Bardugo consistently writes some of the best plot twists in YA. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is no exception. The twists are masterfully executed, with Chekhov’s Guns that don’t fire and totally innocuous-looking devices that do–so if you’re like me, a reader who tries to be “clever” and guess at what’s coming, you’ll be kept on your toes. Strap in, put your seatbelt on, and mark off an evening, because this is a read-in-one-sitting book.