“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.”
Excuse me while I fangirl over here!
Okay, in all seriousness. I was very nervous to read Warbringer. Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond excited that Leigh Bardugo was writing this adaptation. I love her writing. And I have a lifelong love for Wonder Woman. But, I will admit to mild trepidation on how exactly Bardugo was going to rework the Wonder Woman universe into a YA novel.
It isn’t just the reimagining of the comic I was concerned with. Being a fan of any comic world demands that you have some flexibility in your tolerance for adaptations. I mean, we are on our third rendition of Spider-man, and the love for Spidey is still real. And let’s not even talk about how many Batman’s we’ve been through. No, really, I was worried some essence of the darkness I love in her books would somehow be lost. I shouldn’t have worried because she does not hold back on the heartache, struggle, and treachery.
“I imagine all wars look the same to those who die in them.”
All Diana wants is to be recognized by her Amazonian sisters as worthy and their equal. As Daughter of Earth, molded from clay and brought to life by the Goddesses, Diana did not become an Amazon through death. She has never known war. Never known strife. And to some of her sisters, she will never be one of them truly, because of this. So when she makes the reckless decision to save a human girl, she quickly learns that there is more at stake than facing possible exile.
Alia only wants to be a normal girl. She doesn’t understand that the tension and hostility that follow her aren’t a normal part of human behavior. She finds out she is a Warbringer, descendent of Helen of Troy, and destined to bring a time of bloodshed and war to the world.
Fate brought Alia and Diana together. Fate crossed their paths. Together they have one chance to right the world. One chance save not just the world, but Alia. And they only have a week to do it.
The forces working both to keep Alia alive and to make sure she dies, are relentless. And here is where we find the skill in Bardugo’s storytelling shine bright. Magic gone astray brings the duo back to New York. Not where they needed to be. But what would a quest be without some missteps? And what would a quest be without a merry band of misfits to join the fray?
Nim, Theo and Jason are not a merry band. But they are a band of misfits that find themselves on this journey to save Alia, and in turn the world. Jason is Alia’s super controlling and over-protective brother. Nim, her best friend, and Theo, Jason’s nerdy best friend. It will take all of their skills, and the ability to work together to actually make their plan work.
And while I did enjoy the banter and the quirks, it is Diana that really makes this novel shine. Her blunt take on New Yorkers and modern life are quite hilarious, not to mention, alarmingly accurate. I laughed so many times at her questions, and responses, and observations. They are perfect.
“She felt like she was wandering in the dark through this world, catching only flashes of understanding, grasping one thing then stumbling onto the next.”
For someone who has only read about the modern world, never seen men or boys, and only heard about the perils of humanity, I imagine our world would be shocking to Diana. Bardugo captures this amazement and awe and blends it with the mistrust and horror of what the world is actually like. For all the changes this retelling made, the heart of Diana stays very much in tact in this novel.
Diana begins the journey thinking it is only to prove herself worthy to her sisters. But the truth is, she needs to find herself worthy in her own eyes as well.
“Battles are often lost because people don’t know which war they’re fighting.”
This is a theme that runs true no matter which version of Wonder Woman you find. In fact, the themes of truth, self-worth, identity and the strength of women are highlighted extremely well in this novel. These are things any fan would expect to find, and Bardugo did such a good job holding up to those standards and showing them in interesting ways.
It is both in Alia and Diana that identity shine through. They both begin thinking they are one person, and end discovering that they are something more. They have to face harsh truths about themselves and their motivations. This journey of identity goes hand in hand with their feelings of self-worth. How much is a life worth? What is the weight of one life versus the weight of all life? And wrapped within all of that is the idea that truth is necessary and vital to all of this.
“Truth means something different when it’s freely given.”
These heavy themes are written intricately within each character along within the overall plot, and that is really the heart of Wonder Woman. Yet, there is a playfulness to the book. The characters are still teenagers and are guaranteed to break up the brevity of any situation with some smart mouthed sarcasm exactly when it’s needed.
Finally, highlighting the strength of women is captured so well in Warbringer. It isn’t just that Diana is nearly indestructible, because the physical strength isn’t what makes her exceptional. The way her and Alia bond in their quest was a subtle nod to that sisterhood that the Amazonians show. Without being on the island for long, this storyline needed to be shown in another way, and it was highlighted perfectly here.
Even more subtlety though, is the strength we find in ourselves. Often in society, even still today, women are still praised for being subdued. Jason constantly tries to subdue Alia, and while they call him out on it, the control he exerts and the dominance he expects are all too common. While no one is attempting to control Diana, I found it empowering when even Diana realizes she doesn’t have to hold herself back.
“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”
Every women alive has felt a moment somewhat similar in her life. A moment when we are tired of being told how to behave, how to sound, how to dress, how to be. I loved that we get to see Diana shed these self-imposed shackles to embrace the warrior her heart knows she can be.
It is in maintaining the heart of this story, and these characters, that these themes work towards the shocking ending. I’ll fully admit, I didn’t even see the twist coming. Yet even the ending holds true to the themes of the comic, and the themes of the book. It is this unrelenting, unapologetic willingness to face the darkness of humanity that makes Bardugo books so good. And she does it again with this one.
Superheros and icons are meant to be examined. They are meant to be placed in new and challenging situations so that we can explore the depths of heroics against villainy. They are meant to adapt to stay relevant and be reborn to reflect changes in society. I loved Warbringer for all that Wonder Woman has been, and all that she can be. And I am so excited to read more of these hero reboots in future DC Icon books!