When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson
I absolutely love this story. Technically a trilogy, while each book ends at the conclusion of different arcs, When Women Were Warriors reads smoothly across from each book to the other rather than feeling like there’s a startling break between each. The story is heavily character based, but the small little events that occur along the way weave together towards the end in an intricate plot where almost every event matters. The first book starts off a little slow as it introduces and develops the characters, but once it starts to pick up it became really hard for me to put my Kindle down.
When Women Were Warriors takes place in an alternative historical, matriarchal feudal setting, where Tamras daughter of Tamnet is sent to learn and serve in Merin’s house. Tamras had always heard stories of her mother training with others during Merin’s time to become warriors, and grew up wanting to be a warrior. Instead of being assigned as an apprentice, she was assigned to be the companion of Maara – an untrusted, mysterious warrior of unknown origin who immediately declares that she doesn’t want a companion. Tamras has to deal with Maara’s cold attitude while also being isolated from the rest because her warrior is a stranger. At the same time, she runs into trouble with Merin and how what Merin thinks will be best for Tamras is at odds with what Tamras believes is best for herself. She also makes friends and enemies with different characters of different statuses as she tries to find a place for herself and her warrior in their new world.
The characters are the best part of the story. We get to see Tamras grow from a person of no importance to a hero, pushing on through tough obstacles. The characters grow and change over the course of the trilogy. There are many aspects to each as they struggle through circumstances and must make decisions, whether to keep responsibility to the greater house or to follow one’s loved one. Whether to show compassion or to strike down the enemy. Every character feels well rounded and thought out, and none of them feel like they’re there without meaning or just for the sake of the plot. You learn to love and hate characters from many levels of power and backgrounds, whether a lowly companion or the big shots of the house.
When Women Were Warriors is filled with emotions. There are moments that made me happy and moments that made me want to cry, and sometimes I end up with my heart completely broken from a few pages. Other times I feel furious and want an army to mysteriously appear and plow through someone. The moments that are heartwarming or full of love make me feel like I’m floating, and make me crave it in my life. The story does a good job of pulling on heartstrings but without leaving the reader to soak in it for too long. After a heart aching disaster, we’re left to feel the aftermath of the incident enough for it to sink in and then we’re given a strand of hope to latch on before the depression becomes too unbearable. The roller coaster of emotions was masterfully weaved.
Another part of the story I like that is really hard to pull off is the way it tries to teach about the world or about people. Usually when I feel that a story is trying to lecture me or assert a viewpoint on something, I automatically build up a wall and scrutinize and criticize beyond necessary. This story manages to talk to me properly, and instead of bashing ideas over the heads of the readers it carefully takes its time to reason through it gently. There are a lot of things that I can agree are true about the world, particularly in how humans handle emotions and relations.
The prose of the story often goes beyond the usual first person style to a more narrative prose, the type of narration that people in real life use when they’re trying to tell you a story. When Women Were Warriors makes uses of many sub stories passed down through generations to the characters as a character tells it to another, and they are often thematically related to the events going on in the actual story. The sub stories themselves are simple parables, but the way they’re written is elegant in a way that feels like someone is speaking it to me while I close my eyes.
I recommend buying the books (the digital version of the first book is free). It’ll be worth every penny spent and every minute reading.