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

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