The title of Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman novel is tantalizingly provocative. It implies that Princess Diana of Themyscira is being re-imagined as some kind of harbinger of war.
But that’s not the case. Wonder Woman isn’t a “Warbringer” at all. Always and evermore she remains a peacemaker. The title of the book is simply an ambiguous (but catchy) declaration.
There’s no ambiguity once you start reading the book, however. Right off the bat, Diana meets a teenager named Alia Keralis who is a direct descendant of Helen of Sparta. It is Alia, not Diana, who is the Warbringer (note the capitalization). She’s the one who carries the death of the world. “With each breath she takes,” says an Amazon oracle, “she takes us closer to Armageddon.”
In this origin story, there is no Steve Trevor. Alia is the person who inspires Diana to leave Themyscira and begin her hero’s journey. But Trevor isn’t completely missing from the narrative. There’s a nod to his fate during a tour of the island’s armory. On display is a pilot’s jumpsuit riddled with bullet holes that looks like it came from the twenties. In Bardugo’s novel, Trevor didn’t live long enough to cause a blip on William Marston’s radar.
Leaving the island, Diana makes her way to New York where she tries to help Alia stop the ongoing cycle of war. Despite the serious nature of her task, she manages to have a few LOL moments in the big city. She doesn’t eat an ice-cream cone, but she rides the subway (always an interesting adventure for tourists). And she does a little shopping to pick up necessities like Doritos and gummy bears. During her shopping spree, she tucks her magic lasso in a plastic Duane Reade bag.
Forgoing the pleasures of NY, Diana must escort her charge to Greece before the start of the Athenian New Year. If Alia takes a dip in the spring water of Therapne (the resting place of Helen) the cycle of Warbringers will be broken. To complicate matters further, the pair is under attack by disparate factions. Some people want to kill Alia to prevent future wars. And others want to keep her alive in order to facilitate their shady warmongering agenda.
Throughout, Diana is totally committed to Alia. “Sister in battle,” she tells her at one point. “I am shield and blade to you.” But she is also cognizant of her own destiny. She is the only one of her Amazon sisters who hasn’t been tested on the battlefield. She is 16 years old in this novel and she hungers for a chance to prove herself beyond Themyscira track and field events. “What’s my story?” she asks more than once.
The answer to her question comes late in the novel. The world needed a champion, and Diana needed a chance to learn what she was capable of. She broke the curse of the Warbringer, but her story wasn’t over. It had just begun. “She did not know what the future held, only that the world – full of danger, and challenge, and wonder – was waiting to be discovered.”
[Wonder Woman: Warbringer / By Leigh Bardugo / First Printing: August 2017 / ISBN: 9780399549731]