Warbringer is a YA take on the Wonder Woman origin story, which for the first half of the book, feels like Bardugo just took the story from the 2017 movie and changed up a few details. In this book, Diana is 17 rather than in her 20s/30s, the mortal she has to save is a teenage girl rather than a World War I pilot, and her venture into the human world is with present day New York City rather than early 20th century England. But pretty much the entire first half is exactly the same.
I realize that this book should be judged as a completely separate entity from the movie, and that superhero stories are rebooted and retold multiple times, even within the comics universe. The problem is, this book’s retelling felt stale. I like the added diversity (the teenagers whom Diana befriends are persons of colour, and one of them is also bisexual and plus-size), but for the most part, I felt like I’ve seen this story before. I could even predict the kind of jokes Bardugo was going to make about Diana’s fish-out-of-water naivete in our world. (e.g. A teenage boy goes skinny dipping, and Diana takes off her clothes as well and wonders why the other teenagers react differently to her nakedness than to the boy’s. The naivete is understandable, but the humour is flat.)
The story picks up in the second half, once the Warbringer mythology has been established and the characters are off in full quest mode. The central human in this story is a teenage girl named Alia Keralis, who is a direct descendant of Helen of Troy. Like Helen, Alia is a Warbringer, which means that her very presence incites discord and strife, and her birth signals that a war is to come. When Diana takes her to Themyscira to save her life, the presence of a mortal causes the island and its Amazons to sicken and proximity to the island causes Alia to sicken. To save both Alia and her people, Diana must take Alia to Helen of Troy’s resting place to be purified in a spring before a particular phase of the moon on her 17th year (basically a week or two in the book’s timeline). Alia’s bathing in the spring before the deadline will remove the Warbringer in her and end the Warbringer line altogether, which will end wars for all time. The problem is, that solution isn’t very well known in the mortal world, whereas there are people who know that killing Alia before that same deadline will stop at least whatever specific war she’s destined to bring for her generation. Alia’s brother Jason and their friends Nim and Theo join Alia and Diana in the quest to get Alia to the spring safely before the deadline.
I like the Warbringer mythology, and I particularly like the point another character makes that conflict is in the very fabric of humanity, and simply solving the Warbringer issue isn’t likely to end all wars. I personally wish this thread had been delved into a bit more, as with the movie, where Diana has to learn that war isn’t as simple as she’d like to believe. I don’t think she quite got that opportunity here.
The quest half of the novel is entertaining and fun to read. There are the usual elements of romance, bickering, family issues, and coming to terms with who you are. I like the friendship between Diana and Alia and the deepening understanding of Jason’s overprotectiveness towards his sister. Still, I felt Nim and Theo had so much untapped potential as characters. It seemed like a lot of their actions throughout the quest had to do with their proximity to Alia’s brand of discord or their being possessed by some spiritual being, and I thought it was when they were simply human and dealing with stuff that they shone the most.
I also enjoyed learning more about the Amazons and Themyscira. For example, I had no idea until now that the Amazons were once mortal women warriors who died in battle and were taken to Themyscira as a reward for their bravery. I’m also glad the Aamzons here are more diverse than in the movie — they come from various countries in the world. Much as I like the Warbringer mythology and the human characters, I personally would have preferred a prequel to the movie, an exploration into 17 year old Diana’s life in Themyscira and some kind of conflict on the island before mortals ever crossed that barrier.
Still, the story, particularly the second half, was an entertaining read. The book cover art is absolutely beautiful (kudos to the artist Jacey), and the hardcover includes a fold out poster with a beautiful coloured artwork of a teenage Wonder Woman by Afua Richardson.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.