When Diana witnesses an explosion and a shipwreck off Themyscira’s shores, she feels compelled to save the lone survivor — even though the island itself rejects the presence of mortals. But Alia is a Warbringer, descended from Helen of Troy and destined to bring the world crashing into chaos and war. That’s not the world Diana or Alia want — and they must work together to save both Alia and the world from that fate.
When the advance copy for Warbringer arrived, my initial scan of the book had me concerned it was headed the way of last year’s Black Widow: Forever Red, which Gabby reviewed to… less than stellar impressions. Wonder Woman is one of my favorite comic book characters and has had a pretty significant impact on me, and I had significant concerns for what would be done with one of my favorite fictional role models.
But Leigh Bardugo’s contemporary interpretation of the Wonder Woman origin story — her youth in Themyscira followed by her entry into the “World of Man” — is a wonderfully fresh version of the story with a perspective that firmly centers the female characters present in the story.
Like the Wonder Woman film that came out earlier this summer, Warbringer focuses on the “origin story” that takes Diana off the island she was born after she finds an outsider who crashes into Themyscira due to an accident. It’s similarly a coming-of-age tale: Diana isn’t Wonder Woman yet; in fact, she doesn’t technically count as an Amazon, because she’s not yet “battle-tested.”
As the plot progresses, readers follow Diana and Alia to New York, where Alia’s being pursued by people who want to kill her to prevent the next world war from happening, and Diana must keep her safe while they figure out how to break Alia’s curse. The book is filled with fight scenes, and Bardugo says in an author’s note that quite a bit of it is based on archaeological evidence mentioned in Adrienne Mayor’s book about historical Amazons. (Incidentally, I’ve also read this book and would recommend for interested readers!)
Diana and Alia team up with a group of young New Yorkers — Alia’s older brother Jason, her best friend Nim, and her crush Theo — to journey back to Greece and find the spring where Alia can break her curse. A lot of this particular plotline is dependent on the massive fortune left to Alia and Jason by their parents; Alia’s father was Greek — that’s where her relation to Helen of Troy comes from — and both of her parents were genetic researchers before they met an untimely death.
Alia’s race is an interesting aspect to the book. She’s of mixed Greek and Black American heritage, a native New Yorker, and this leads to some interesting “teaching moments” for Diana about the world outside Themyscira. But occasionally, Bardugo’s treatment of Alia’s race comes across as heavy-handed.
On the other hand, the focus on Alia as the deuteragonist of the story keeps Warbringer in the realm of a Wonder Woman book that tells women’s stories, sidestepping a major criticism of the Gal Godot film’s focus on Steve Trevor. While I’m not a huge fan of the “twist” ending, I am a fan of the way Bardugo decided to center the story on Diana and Alia as well as the realistically diverse group of friends Alia surrounds herself with in New York.
Warbringer is a strong contemporary YA introduction to Wonder Woman’s origin story, and it’s significantly less confusing and convoluted than trying to direct new readers to the myriad of comics available. Readers looking to read a female author’s interpretation of Diana’s journey will definitely enjoy this book.
4 out of 5 stars
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