Leigh Bardugo’s story of a young Diana Prince in her pre-Wonder Woman days is a must-read for comic book fans, those obsessed with the summer blockbuster film — and really anyone who is a fan of great writing that places strong females and even stronger female friendships at the center of the story.
About ‘Wonder Woman: Warbringer’
She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . . .
Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.
Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.
Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.
‘Wonder Woman: Warbringer’ book review
If it’s not obvious from the half dozen articles I’ve written about Wonder Woman, I’m a huge fan of the character. I’m also a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, and you’ll find me posting about once a week on Twitter about how angry I am that there is still no on-screen adaptation of Six of Crows.
So it should probably come as no surprise that I am absolutely in love with this book — a story about one of my all-time favorite superheroes written by one of my all-time favorite authors.
But here’s the really great thing about it: You’ll enjoy this book whether you’re a fan of Wonder Woman comics, the Wonder Woman movie, Leigh Bardugo, or just YA lit in general.
For comic book fans
“To whom do we give praise each day?” Tek trumpeted. “Hera,” they chorused. “Athena, Demeter, Hestia, Aphrodite, Artemis.” The goddesses who had created Themyscira and gifted it to Hippolyta as a place of refuge.
If you were worried that a book about a young Diana in her pre-Wonder Woman days might introduce you to a less recognizable and wholly less likable version of the character — similar to Jill Thompson’s The True Amazon — then rejoice, because you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
While Diana in Warbringer is definitely younger and likewise plagued by more insecurity than any adult version of her we’ve seen, she’s still the same noble, kind and compassionate character that makes her so wholly appealing and inspiring.
It’s also plainly obvious just how much research Bardugo did prior to writing this book and how much she cares about and values the Wonder Woman mythos. Her conception of Themyscira pulls from the 1980s Post-Crisis tradition, with the goddesses creating Themyscira and gifting it to Hippolyta.
The Amazons here are warrior women who died in battle, called on their gods — whoever they might have been — in their last moments, and were therefore resurrected to immortality on the island. This means the island is populated with a wide variety of women, from all different cultures and from all different time periods.
There’s likewise a hint of Gail Simone (who gets a special shoutout in Bardugo’s acknowledgements section) and her well-known story arc, The Circle, in that there is a good number of Amazons for whom Diana is an aberration, who see her very creation as a harbinger of doom upon the island. That particular group of Amazons doesn’t provide the central antagonist in the same way that it does for Gail Simone’s storyline, but it does feed into Diana’s feeling that she has to prove herself because she isn’t a “real Amazon.”
Finally, comic book fans will be pleased to see the integration of the wider Greek god pantheon and Greek mythology in the storyline, from an Oracle to Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Dread) to a pretty lengthy appearance from the six goddesses who founded Themyscira themselves.
For movie fans
[Mortal] lives were violent, precarious, fragile, but they fought for them anyway, and held to the hope that their brief stay on this earth might count for something. That faith was worth preserving.
Warbringer follows a lot of the same beats as the movie without making you feel like you’re simply rehashing the on-screen adaptation. There’s an inexperienced Diana who wants to both do what’s right and prove herself, an accident that leads her to leave the island in order to save mankind, a section that highlights Diana in Man’s World, a ragtag group that sets out to save the world, and a surprising turn in the third act.
As an added bonus, if you were one of the many fans who were hoping to see more Themyscira in the movie, you will be super pleased by the amount of time spent on the island here. We get to explore more of how the island is set up and created, as well as get to know its culture, people and their histories in a more in-depth way.
Likewise, we get to see Diana as a fish out of water in present-day New York rather than early 20th century London, which is as hilarious as it is insightful, and touches on issues of gender, race and class with particular finesse and realism.
And while those hoping to find a Steve Trevor x Diana Prince type of romance will find themselves disappointed, the book actually improves on two things that I felt were both sorely missing in the movie adaptation: strong female friendships and the inclusion of women of color.
Here, the catalyst for Diana’s decision to leave Themyscira comes in the form of Alia, a young teenage girl of mixed African-American and Greek descent but who largely identifies as Black. Once they leave the island, Diana becomes Alia’s protector, while Alia and her best friend, Poornima “Nim” Chaudhary, a vivacious Indian-American lesbian fashionista, become Diana’s guide to the modern-day world of mankind.
In fact, Diana herself is the only white character among the major cast of characters. In addition to Alia and Nim, there is Alia’s older brother Jason, and Theo Santos, a family friend and Alia’s long-time crush, is Afro-Latino.
Like the movie, every character is a fully-realized, three dimensional person, each with his or her own unique traits, history and motivations, and you’ll find yourself as engaged with each of Barudgo’s original characters just as much as you are with the iconic Diana Prince.
For Leigh Bardugo fans
[Diana was] a different kind of knight, one who’d chosen to protect the girl the world wanted to destroy; one born to slay dragons, but maybe to befriend them, too.
One of the many great things about Leigh Bardugo’s writing is how obviously important it is for her to write both strong females and strong female friendships.
And I don’t just mean strong female characters in that they could kick your ass (though many of them could, in fact, do that), but strong in that her characters are always complex human beings for whom strength manifests in the emotional and mental, as well as the physical.
In Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Diana, Alia and Nim are all distinct from one another without falling into stereotype or tokenism, and they support one another in ways that are both genuine and relatable. And like the movie, none of the female characters in this novel eschew stereotypically feminine traits, instead drawing on those very traits — empathy, sisterhood, even fashion — to find courage and strength.
The novel also features Bardugo’s exceptional skill at blending the fantastical with the mundane, and in keeping both elements imbued with an emotional core that never feels cheap, shoehorned-in or overly sentimental.
The mythological nature of Themyscira is grounded in the sisterhood of the Amazons, in the doubt and loneliness that Diana feels as the only child. The ordinariness of modern-day New York is seen through the wide-eyed gaze of Diana, is explored through the struggles of Alia and Nim as two women of color in their largely upper-class white surroundings.
Finally, the book is just a whole lot of fun. The plotting is fast-paced and well-written, and each of the characters — especially Nim and Theo — have a ton of hilarious moments and one-liners that had me laughing out loud throughout the novel.
Wonder Woman: Warbringer is an action-packed, emotional novel, part coming of age story and part superhero adventure. It’s a story that’ll inspire you to protect your friends, to do what’s right no matter what, and to exfoliate more.