Nila discovers and contemplates Catherine M. Wilson’s Book 1 The Warrior’s Path of When Women Were Warriors.
Published by Shield Maiden Press, 2008
Review by N. E. White.
The Warrior’s Path is the first book in the When Women Were Warriors series. In this volume, we are introduced to a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, living in the Bronze Age on the British Isles. Though, truth be told, I only realized the book was set in the British Isles after I read the book and was subsequently told those facts by another reader. But never mind, let’s get to the story, because, oh, what a story…
Well, that’s another bit of controversy and I do feel a bit conflicted about the whole book because of what others might perceive as a lack of ‘story’, even though, at times, Ms. Wilson moved me to tears. Ah! But I digress, yet again. Back to the story…
A first person account, The Warrior’s Path is told from Tamras’s perspective. Tamras is a young woman who leaves her happy, rural, sheltered life to bind herself to a neighboring clan, Merin’s house. There she hopes to apprentice as a warrior, as her mother had, find a place for herself among the clans, and forge friendships and alliances that will help herself and her family. But all that is secondary to what actually happens.
Tamras becomes a companion to an outsider, Maara. And though Maara is a warrior in Lady Merin’s house, she is treated as less than one. Tamras doesn’t understand why, and does her best to serve her warrior as best as she can.
In the year that she spends in Merin’s house, Tamras learns to wholeheartedly trust her warrior, begins a loving relationship with another female companion, and realizes just how much more complicated the wide-world can be than her little spot of home. Her warrior is at odds with most of the other warriors in Lady Merin’s house and this provides much of the conflict in the book, in addition to some Northern tribes that threaten Lady Merin’s territory in the hopes of finding food. But thanks to Maara and Tamras, the attack is thwarted. Throughout the tale, Maara teaches Tamras basic survival skills for the wilds while Tamras reveals her world to Maara, an outsider, by telling her childhood stories. Some of these are worthy of books all of their own, and add a texture to the book that is truly fantastical.
Before we go on, let’s be clear: There are no huge, epic battles. No world-threatening evil to fight. No bad-ass, hand-to-hand combat. Not even some good ‘mentor-kicks-student’s-butt’ scenes. But, yes, there is lesbian sex.
So, is this really a book about warriors in the sense that many of you may be familiar with?
To me, The Warrior’s Path is more of an awakening story set in an alternate reality where women are warriors. Ms. Wilson paints an enchanting countryside and an amazing history where women and wisdom rule rather than, well, I hate to say it, men and might.
And through I found the perspective refreshing, and Tamras struggles were truly heartfelt, the fact that men were almost absent from the book did bother me. So much so that when a male character was mentioned, or had some interaction with the main characters, I found I wanted more from them. Or, rather, more of an understanding of what these men in this world were like. I thought, how could they be so complacent and regulate themselves to the background like that?
Then it hit me.
Oooohh! Like all the countless women, whores, princesses, mothers, and sisters in most other books that only get mentioned in passing. Ah, now it makes sense. If you accept the premise that men are simply not the main characters (or even supporting characters) in this world, then you’ll be fine. In the end, I accepted it.
The writing in The Warrior’s Path is superb. Ms. Wilson uses words like a warrior might use a sword; with precision and clarity. She expertly weaves Tamras’ coming-of-age tale with foreshadowed changes on the horizon along with an ancient history and complex mythology that will demand your attention.
If you ever want a break from the typical, violent* fantasy fare and are in the mood to read a truly different perspective on Ancient Britain, then I cannot more highly recommend The Warrior’s Path.
*Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of fantasy books – even the ones with lots of fighting men in ‘em. Okay, maybe especially those, but let’s not quibble. In my world, there’s room for every sort in the fantasy genre.
N.E. White, August 2013.
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