I was not sure if I was going to like Wonder Woman: Warbringer. On one hand, I’m not a huge comic book character person (aside from Marvel movies, like the rest of the world) and for some reason the idea of a comic book/movie character being the subject of a novel seemed like a bad idea to me. On the other hand… Leigh Bardugo. In the end, I’m glad I gave it a shot.
What’s it about?
The novel tells an origin story for Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. When Diana saves the life of a teenage girl from a shipwreck just off the coast of her hidden homeland Themyscira, she risks exile for breaking a sacred oath of the Amazons. However, there is more at stake than just Diana’s future on Themyscira: the girl Diana rescued, Alia, is a warbringer, which means that there is a terrible power inherent in her blood that causes discord and could plunge the world into war and chaos. Alia and Diana’s only hope is to get Alia to Greece, where she can be purified in a spring associated with the original warbringer, Helen of Troy.
What’d I think?
The basic storyline of the novel is not particularly groundbreaking, for the most part. It is certainly clever—the power of Alia’s blood explains the violent overreactions of the minions sent after Diana and company, and there are some little details that make a tantalizing trail straight to the twist that is somehow mindblowing anyway—but it is also an origin story and superhero origin stories all start to blend together after a while.
The 2017 Wonder Woman movie made 821.9 million USD at the box office, and Bardugo’s Warbringer came out—if my twenty-second Google search can be trusted—about two months later. It’s hard not to compare the two stories, since they cover the same ground: Diana leaves Themyscira and becomes a hero in the violent, arguably undeserving world of men. Obviously there are differences: Bardugo’s Diana is a teenager who leaves home in the modern day to assist a half black, half Greek girl with a magical bloodline. Movie Diana is older, fights in WWI, and helps an ordinary white male pilot. The difference in ages did not keep me from picturing Diana as Gal Gadot, though, which is a bit discordant since all Warbringer!Diana’s companions are about sixteen.
While I did like the movie quite a lot, I think that Warbringer does a better job with its themes. Diana’s insecurity as a result of her origins (her mother made her from clay, so she alone of the Amazons did not come to Themyscira after a glorious and heroic death) ties beautifully into her companions’ marginalized identities, and there is some very nice paralleling of their respective experiences of being blamed and maligned purely for existing. There’s also the question of legacy. Diana has to find her place as the daughter of the queen of the Amazons. Alia and her older brother Jason grapple with the legacy of their late parents’ hugely influential bio lab. There’s an interesting question of good vs. evil: the novel’s heroes are trying to save Alia’s life even though killing her would certainly prevent a hideous world war, and the ‘bad guys’ who are trying to kill Alia are actually trying to achieve peace through her death. The novel, like its heroine, is also unapologetically feminist. The bond between the female characters is wonderfully developed, and the sisterhood of the Amazons is strong and palpable. The male characters aren’t left out or underdeveloped—Jason is fascinating and Theo, Alia’s love interest, is goofy and loyal—but the strength of the novel is in the girl power, and it’s awesome.
I really like all the characters. Since the novel is named after Diana, it is only fitting that she’s the best of them. She is brave and kind and loyal and all the other things that you would expect of Wonder Woman, but Bardugo also gives her a humanity that keeps her from feeling alien or unreachable. She is not perfect: she longs for attention and acceptance from her fellow Amazons, and her arguably selfish need for validation is a strong motivator. She is also adorably awkward because she does not understand modern slang or the nuance of social interaction. Socially awkward characters like this are always hit or miss, because it is often really forced, but Diana is a hit. Her mistakes are amusing but endearingly honest, just like her.
Alia, James, and Theo are good characters as well, but the other standout for me is Nim, Alia’s adorable best friend who has fashion suggestions and obscure trivia for every occasion. I just really love her.
There are lots of little touches that I really enjoyed. Chief amongst them is the fact that Diana gets shot in the legs all the time. I found it really funny since every time I watch Wonder Woman (or, let’s be honest, any superhero movie) with my family, someone always says, “Why don’t they go for the legs?” Well, in Warbringer, they do go for the legs and it doesn’t work. So take that, Wonder Woman naysayers.
I also love love love the ending. I usually do a good job of predicting endings, but I failed to do so with Warbringer. The fact that I didn’t (I am honestly annoyed with myself for missing so many signs) is really exciting and a testament to Bardugo’s great writing.
What’s the verdict?
Although Wonder Woman: Warbringer largely rehashes the major plot points of its titular heroine’s origin story, it benefits from Bardugo’s consistently excellent writing, engaging characters, and strong thematic focus. I’m still not convinced that novelizations of characters from comic books and movies is a great idea overall, but I did enjoy this one. I can’t speak to how satisfying the novel would be to a Wonder Woman aficionado, but I can say quite confidently that YA, fantasy, and mythology fans will have a fun time with this one. Leigh Bardugo has very quickly become one of my favorite writers and, once again, she did not disappoint me.
Characters: A Plot: B Themes: A Writing: A Fun: B+ Final: A
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