Diana is Princess of Themyscira, an island unreachable by mortals and inhabited by immortal Amazons magically transported there because they called out to the classical goddesses when dying in battle. All the Amazons except Diana, that is. She was formed from clay at the behest of the Amazons’ queen Hippolyta, who wanted a daughter.
Some of the Amazons resent Diana’s status as princess, and she is determined to prove herself worthy of her place. As the book opens, she is competing in a cross-country race, but as she takes a shortcut to the destination, she hears a cry just beyond Themyscira’s magical waters, and sees the wreckage of a ship. While she knows that any resident of Themyscira will be disciplined for being seen with a mortal and exiled for bringing one to the island, her compassion (and maybe her desire for heroism) makes her save the drowning girl, Alia, and carry her to a secret cave.
But the island itself rejects Alia’s presence; it’s immediately afflicted with disease, storms, and earthquakes. Diana’s guilt and fear hurry her to the Oracle, who tells her that Alia is a direct descendent of Helen of Troy, and, like Helen, a haptandra, a warbringer who creates strife wherever she goes and is fated to plunge mankind into war. The best thing to do is to let her die, says the Oracle, which she will do quickly; other warbringers will arise, but, Themyscira will be saved.
Pressed for alternatives, the Oracle adds that if Alia were to bathe in the spring by Helen’s grave before the new moon, she would be purified, and humanity would be purged of warbringers forever. But Diana must not attempt to get Alia to Greece – she is only one girl, and she has no experience, no skills. If she fails, the world will destroyed by war. I am an Amazon, says Diana to herself, and she decides to attempt it.
So begins a plot that shifts from Themyscira to New York City, where 17-year-old Alia has grown up sheltered by her brother Jason against the many people who are bent on her destruction. Part of the story concerns Diana’s semi-comic introduction to the contemporary world about which the Amazons have educated her. Part of it proves that by human standards, her physical powers are extraordinary. But in the midst of the comic-book-inspired-derring-do, Diana’s friendship with Alia grows – for Alia, once she has come to grips with the horror of her status, fights heroically to get to Greece and the purifying spring.
The two girls are joined by Alia’s Indian friend Nim and by the Bolivian Theo, on whom Alia had a 13-year-old crush. Joining them, too, is Jason, who runs his family’s vastly rich foundation and so has at his disposal airplanes, helicopters, and guards. As they near the spring, the situation becomes at once more dangerous and more complicated, and the suspense is truly effective.
“Warbringer” is the first book in the DC Icons series, which makes comic book/pop culture heroes the protagonists of novels by best-selling fantasists. Coming soon, by other authors, are versions of Batman, Catwoman, and Superman. Whether you find the cross-genre enticing or not depends on your attitude to commercial fiction, but in this case, the mix is entirely successful. Leigh Bardugo is a fine writer, and by tying Wonder Woman to classical mythology, feminism, and anti-war literature, she has created an adventure tale that kids over 12 will read breathlessly and older readers will admire for its literary allusions, intelligence, and profound implications.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.