A Hero’s Tale – a review

This is the third Book in the When Women Were Warriors fantasy trilogy and when I reviewed the second book, A Journey of the Heart, I had to read Book 3 at once. I wasn’t disappointed, although I must apologise for this belated review – life & health conspired against this getting written.


A Hero’s Tale (When Women Were Warriors #3)

by Catherine M. Wilson (Goodreads Author)

In Book II, Tamras moved from her home into the lands beyond its border. In Book three, the stage widens further: she deals with the struggles of whole peoples. Caught up in intrigues that would once have been far above her, the heroine risks everything unless she can not only learn to swim in treacherous waters, but to master them. The heroine ‘s inner journey continues to match her outer one. She must confront the meaning not only of personal love, but the love that extends beyond oneself and those we hold dear. Catherine Wilson ‘s skill at tackling the big issues of love, meaning, and humanity is so deft that it all seemed, to me at least, to flow naturally from her narrative in a way I found technically quite breathtaking. “–from a review by Charles Ferguson on the Goodreads website

“Being the third and last volume in a series I enjoyed immensely, I knew that I could expect this last book to deliver a happy and satisfying ending. What I didn’t t expect was the intricate and daring storyline of this last volume. It is bigger and broader than what has come before, and it is spectacular. this time the story unfolds on to a whole new level. More characters, more intrigue, greater losses, wonderful reunions. There ‘s no taking the easy road here the story opened up into unimagined dimensions to tell a tale that really is that of a hero.”

When Women Were Warriors manages to blend mythic storytelling with characters who feel so real you could imagine stepping into the pages and having a conversation with them. A Hero ‘s Tale skilfully weaves the questions of love, faith and fairness into a dramatic story; not only of a relationship between the main characters, but of a quest so much bigger it takes the breath away. There is everything you could wish for here power struggles, forces for good and evil, dramatic tests of faith, daring rescues, fatal rivalry, but it is managed with such a deft hand that in the end it is all one beautiful story. What else is there to say? This is not just lesbian fiction, but a story about being human. It ‘s not to be missed.–from a review by Kate Genet on the website, Kissed By Venus

In Book III of the trilogy, Tamras must make her own hero ‘s journey. She ventures into the unknown and encounters a more formidable enemy than any she has ever faced. Character is destiny, and the destiny of Tamras and all her people will depend upon choices that come less from the skills she has been taught than from the person she has become, from her own heart.


Review 5 stars

It has been a few weeks since I made the final stages of the heroic journey of Tamras but so much of this world ‘when women were warriors’ lives on. I am tempted to slip back into her vibrant world again as the characters and settings feel so rich, and the writing still weaves its spell over me.

This is the epic climax and the story grows in intensity as the events become more complex. Tamras faces new challenges that are a true test of everything that she has learned. The younger and less-experienced Tamras of Book 1 might well have failed, and even after progressing so much, she still stumbles. Yet, Tamras struggles on.

The character has grown to the point where she can stand alongside some formidable characters, sharing her brand of wisdom and still learning as unexpected events unfold. Some key motifs and threads come together in well-constructed echoes and actions that made me feel this tapestry was being woven together neatly. Wolves and mysteries were my thoughts, but I will say no more about that.

Yes, as with any epic saga, there are threads left to tease the reader, but no saga truly ends as life continues beyond ‘The End’. Without those, this reader would not be creating my own imaginings of where Tamras goes next. Do we want a ‘happily ever after’ ending?

The central element is again ‘Love’ in all its forms, true and perverted, uplifting and shattering, emotional and physical. We all need to learn who to embrace and when. The key is to follow your heart and the truth will be revealed.

All the evocative words and images are there again, all the rich and flawed characters, and some unexpected actions and decisions. All these make A Hero’s Tale another recommended read and the perfect end to the trilogy. Finally, I have the signed paperbacks to place in my bookshelf alongside my prized hardback copies of The Lord of the Rings.

When Women Were Warriors too will be regular re-reads over the years to come.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Diversity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars


A Journey of the Heart – a review

This is the second Book in the When Women Were Warriors fantasy trilogy and when I reviewed the first book, The Warrior’s Path , I was excited to read Book 2. I wasn’t disappointed.

Journey of the Heart 

A Journey of the Heart (When Women Were Warriors #2)

by Catherine M. Wilson

A Journey of the Heart Book II] shows the same strong storytelling ability of the first book. The language is still almost musical and wraps its sweet spell around you. Storylines that were just starting to grow in the first book are also very well developed here. Intrigue and conflict are fleshed out and take some surprising twists. All that I had hoped for, reading the first book, begins to bloom. “–from a review by Kate Genet on the website, Kissed By Venus

“Catherine Wilson creates a magical sense of place, and of belonging to that place. Within that, she also tells how it feels to not belong. Ms Wilson ‘s is a tale of bone wisdom. It whispers of what we remember when we sleep at night and dream. It calls us to remember that women had, and still have, a wise and powerful place in the world.”–from a review on the blog, The Rainbow Reader, by Baxter Clare Trautman, author of The River Within

“In this book, we see Tamras world open from the House of Merin and its immediate environs into the lands beyond its borders. She meets other peoples, whose ways are different from those she knows. Similarly Tamras inner life expands as well: the feelings within her blossom into the romantic love that will be the linchpin her life will hinge on “–from a review by Charles Ferguson on the Goodreads website

In Book II of the trilogy, Tamras ‘s apprenticeship as a warrior isn’t turning out quite the way she expected. Her unconventional choices lead to her crossing swords, almost literally, with Vintel, the war leader of Merin ‘s house. She finds herself embroiled in a power struggle she is doomed to lose, but the loss sends her on a journey that will change her destiny and decide the fate of her people.


Review 5 stars

When Tamras continued her journey ‘when women were warriors’, I slipped back easily into her world again as the characters and settings were familiar from Book 1. As was the writing, which continued to weave its spell over me.

The rhythm that Catherine Wilson chooses continued to remind me of an oral storyteller. Once again, the beautiful poetic phrases kept me reading and held my attention throughout.

As events at Merin’s House and on the northern frontier unfold, Tamras faces crucial decisions and discovers her real friends – and the conflict with Merin’s war leader Vintel intensifies as does her relationship with Maara, the warrior that she is apprenticed to.

Love is the central theme to this book and the trilogy. Not just romantic love but the emotion that is special and deep, that ties people together and gives them life but also hurts. Love is explored in a multitude of ways – mother/child, siblings, woman/woman, warrior/apprentice, wife/husband, first loves. The writer helps the reader feel the intricacies of the emotions involved, never rushing the scenes where characters interact with dialogue, glances or caresses.

Although women are central to the tale and women hold the main warrior role, this is not a simplistic role reversal. Some reviewers, mainly fellow men sadly, have missed the fact that there are warriors at Merin’s House who are men. In modern society, women wanting to fight was frowned on until recently, to the extent that some disguised themselves as men. In contrast, this world-building portrays a more balanced society where such strict divisions are not present.

The reader experiences the battle emotions and reactions as Tamras has her first encounter with the raiding northern tribes. In most cases, the reactions are rooted in respect between fellow warriors and apprentices, and even between rivals.

However, this world is realistic with characters that have been slaves and that issue is gradually explored as the revelations paint a complex world and the war that created much of the backstory emerges into view. The reader discovers more about Merin and her fellow elders as well as her importance to Tamras.

Caring for others has many angles – and complications – as Tamras learns…with love playing its complex role. Once again, there are lessons at every growth point regardless of age and previous experiences. How does one wield that delicate position called ‘Power’ and what is the nature of that ability? The novel is filled with crucial questions for Tamras and the reader – challenges.

The characterisation continues to be rich and the central characters grow as events unfold. Some learn, and others just react, although motives are cleverly revealed – but not too soon. Tamras’s path got clearer but rockier as the mid-point of the trilogy was reached. From there onwards, lines are drawn as the inner and outer conflicts simmer. There will be a climactic clash but as in other great epics, that is being set up with physical and psychological skirmishes that test characters.

There is more great wisdom here, and there are ancient tales woven into the whole – fireside storytelling within a saga. Tamras, especially, told stories that she had learnt while growing up – tales that are told in the style of oral ‘tales of yore’. These add to the magic of the novel, and to the sense of an older world more in touch with its roots.

All the events and revelations set up Book 3 neatly, so A Hero’s Tale has moved top of my ‘Must Reads’ list. Although I’m reading the trilogy on Kindle, I have just ordered the paperbacks to place on my bookshelf alongside my prized copies of The Lord of the Rings.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Diversity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Warrior’s Path – a review

My reading to explore diversity and minority rights issues continues with The Warrior’s Path. This is the first Book in the When Women Were Warriors fantasy trilogy that I became aware of when I first embarked on this quest to move beyond the narrow taboos of modern society. However, this novel was in many ways different from the first read on this journey of enlightenment.

Warrior's Path

The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1)

by Catherine M. Wilson (Goodreads Author)

When she was a child, the author of When Women Were Warriors happily identified with all the male heroes she read about in stories that began, “Once upon a time, a young man went out to seek his fortune.” But she would have been delighted to discover even one story like that with a female protagonist. Since she never did find the story she was looking for all those years ago, she decided to write it.

In Book I of the trilogy, Tamras arrives in Merin’s house to begin her apprenticeship as a warrior, but her small stature causes many, including Tamras herself, to doubt that she will ever become a competent swordswoman. To make matters worse, the Lady Merin assigns her the position of companion, little more than a personal servant, to a woman who came to Merin’s house, seemingly out of nowhere, the previous winter, and this stranger wants nothing to do with Tamras.


Review 5 stars

When Tamras sets out on her journey to become a warrior, the evocative language makes it clear that this is a world of women warriors and her family is part of this tradition. However, the Path is not easy from the moment that Lady Merin assigns her to the position of companion to the introverted stranger, Maara whose past is a mystery.

The writing wove a spell akin to listening to a storyteller. Beautiful poetic phrases kept me reading. The opening flowed and wove me in like one of those fireside tales and held my attention throughout.

The tale is not rushed but Tamras has many things to learn at Lady Merin’s house and throughout there is always the feeling of things to come. We learn with her and yet Tamras already has the seeds of some wisdom in herself, but she must understand through situations and encounters. She grows as she discovers more about herself, about Maara, and about other characters – and they also grow.

This is a beautifully-rendered matriarchal society where the Mother is at the heart of the community. The whole mystical aspect of the Mother is portrayed in believable scenes filled with a deeply spiritual and sensual weaving that evoked in me images of shamanic journeys. The Mother relationship to the Child takes on a more profound meaning towards the closing scenes.

Realistic same-sex relations are the norm and they are the fabric that holds the society together – reminding me of the bonds forged by the male warriors of Sparta. The topic is treated as the norm, alongside the female-male relationships that many aspire to. This aspect was handled subtly as with many aspects of the telling. This is a rich and thriving community that is painted well – elements easing into place as the tale progresses.

The characterisation is rich and worth the steady pace as the seasons change. So many emotions are explored but not rammed at the reader. As winter drifts in then grips the world in its embrace, emotions and relationships are tested. The pace is raised as the tension mounts, but Catherine Wilson is never tempted to let frantic pace outstrip her crafted storytelling.

Words of great wisdom are crafted into the unfolding interactions – like some epic tales. Some characters show great insight, much of it gained with age and experience. Yet, other characters are shown as hasty in their actions and decisions. Spring brings new growth and change in any world so well-painted.

The inevitable conflicts sow seeds for later in the Book and in the trilogy. I was expecting frustrating loose ends, as in some other fantasy trilogies, but the closing scenes were warmly satisfying. The most pressing threads were tied up but more than enough simmered under the surface for Book 2. I came to rest in a comfortable place – one that reminded me of when I had finished The Fellowship of the Ring.

However, as with The Lord of the Rings, I couldn’t wait to buy Book 2 and Journey of the Heart has moved top of my ‘Must Reads’ list.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Diversity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars


Dragonoak: The Complete History of Kastelir – a review

As my writing begins to touch on diversity and minority rights issues, I knew that I should expand my reading. This novel is my first fantasy that I’ve read that is willing to move beyond the narrow taboos of modern society.


Dragonoak: The Complete History of Kastelir (Dragonoak #1)

by Sam Farren

After being exiled to the farmland around her village, Rowan Northwood takes the only chance at freedom she might ever get: she runs away with a passing Knight and doesn’t look back. The woman cares nothing for Rowan’s company, but nor does she seem perturbed by the powers that burn within her.
Rowan soon learns that the scope of their journey is more than a desperate grasp at adventure. She breaks away from the weighty judgement of her village, but has no choice but to abandon her Kingdom altogether. Sir Ightham’s past leads them through Kastelir, a country draped in the shadow of its long-dead Queen—a woman who was all tusks and claws and great, spiralling horns.
Hiding her necromancy is no longer Rowan’s greatest challenge, and what leads them across Kingdoms and through mountains is a heavier burden than she ever could’ve imagined.


Review 3.5 stars

I was drawn to read this book as the blurb, and the reviews promised an engrossing fantasy novel where diversity was the norm. I found the opening intriguing with a fascinating backstory trickled out, not dumped on me. Rowan Northwood as a narrator is driven to leave her village by the attitude of the people that saw her as a healer until they discovered her hidden power.

Her journey is one of discovery, about the world that she only knows from her brother Michael’s stories and about other people. However, she is not the protagonist as that is Sir Ightham, a female knight that is well-portrayed as the norm. At first, Rowan is intrigued and inspired by Sir Ightham, but as she discovers more about the knight, a real attraction grows. Personally, I found it difficult to relate to such a distant protagonist, but I kept reading knowing that through Rowan, I should discover more.

Many of the characters are not the fantasy norm exactly. This aspect of the world-building delivered, as did the world beyond Michael’s books, and this element kept me wanting more. The third intriguing character was an asexual called Rán, whose race, the pane, were central to the story – I must avoid spoilers and say little more about that.

When Rán appears, Rowan calls her ‘she’ and for the rest of the book Rán is a ‘she’. But the pane are asexual or transgender, and the pronoun for them individually is ‘they’. However, once I had adapted my mindset to using this gender-neutral pronoun, confusion set in. Why was Rán ‘she’ but other single pane were almost all ‘they’? What about this sentence:

A handful of younger pane crept up on us. Their leader, a girl with the first signs of a right horn showing, inched her way to the steps. I raised a hand to wave and they shrieked, scattering like ants.

I kept reading engrossed in the story – but after researching ‘gender-neutral pronouns’. Other elements threw me, like the treatment of the horses that grated with everything I knew as a retired equestrian journalist.

The jigsaw remained complicated and unclear – well to Rowan as the narrator but not the protagonist – but eventually, after some unnecessary scenes of excessive world-building, the plotlines took shape through new arrivals, encounters and interruptions. The mysterious quest remained unclear.

More began to grate. Some reviews had mentioned there were “a few typos”, but those would have mortified me if my writing had so many. I had to keep re-reading sentences and amending them. Anyway, back to worrying about the horses – but the focus is now on the Queen. A new intrigue so I’m not giving up. I want to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Rowan is an observant narrator, even if it’s hard being an observer that senses so much. First-person POV is hard, but the reader gets to feel with the main character – although she’s not telepathic. So why the sentences that stray into the omniscient? Confusing and yet avoidable. But enough of that ‘writing style’ nonsense, there’s a mystery to resolve and here comes the next twist.

Finally, in the latter part of the novel, Rowan discovers more and events move faster. I began to find too many loose threads, and it was too late in the story to resolve many of them in time. At least, the central romance reached the next level – but romance is always ongoing.

Much better, according to the author it seems, to add other threads and keep the reader wanting more and let us forgive the cliff-hanger ending – Tolkien did that in Lord of the Rings, so it’s justified. Correction – not in the same way. Reading that trilogy in the 1970s, a glimmer of hope kept me questing, but this time I’m letting Rowan struggle on without me.

Dragonoak would be a good diversity fantasy if not for all the early draft failings like the pacing crisis, first-person omniscient POV, excessive typos and unnecessary scenes. At least, the author can edit the Kindle version one day. For now, I’m off to try a ‘diversity’ SF novel. Perhaps if there is a second edition, then I might join the journey and enjoy some of the inspiring prose.

But not looking at them wasn’t enough to banish them from my mind. Whatever they suffered seeped into the air, following me through busy streets, as though the shadow I’d felt last night had returned to claim me.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Structure – three stars

Readability – three stars

Editing – three stars

Style – three stars