Urskuul’s Reading Circle: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Well everyone, we have somehow managed to navigate the perils of 2017 to survive all the way into October! I think we all should be congratulated on this sterling effort, since I originally figured this would be a quick money-making opportunity. Everyone would stop coming to Urskuul’s Reading Circle after the first few months and I could simply pocket the fees everyone paid for an annual membership and treat myself to a few presents. But no, you’ve continued to turn up, time after time, making the Reading Circle an absolute success. I couldn’t be happier. Since the pleasure I get from the regular meetings far outweighs that which I would have had from buying the 7500 piece Lego set of the Millennium Falcon (only £650). And who knows, maybe you’ll all chip in to buy me a present for my birthday (about 6 weeks from now) and I’ll get to enjoy both. Not that I’m hinting you have to buy me something. Just that I would be okay if you wanted to thank me for my efforts in running the Circle.
Now, we have lost a few along the way some at the Summer-ning Festival (which is to be expected), some due to an unfortunate altercation with a Minotaur and a Thunder God, and one because he got on the wrong train and ended up in Europe. You’ll be glad to know that Trevor is still alive, but his poor sense of direction means somehow he’s made his way to Austria, which is the opposite direction of his way home. Hopefully he’ll find his way back to us soon, preferably before his annual membership expires as otherwise he might not be able to renew it. Oh, and let’s not forget Oscar. Tragically lost during the first meeting due to a time-travel accident. Why does no one ever remember Oscar? Poor soul.
Anyway, do you know what reaching October means? Not only that it’s almost my birthday and “Winter is Coming” (be careful saying that phrase too often. A lot of people who use it seem to end up dead), but also that Halloween pops up at the end of the month, followed shortly after by Bonfire Night! To our foreign members, Bonfire Night is when we set fire to various things; wood, fireworks, people we didn’t like that much; and enjoy a lovely evening watching pretty coloured explosives and a large crackling bonfire. Please make sure you don’t mix Halloween and Bonfire night up. Firstly, parents tend to complain when their children are given incendiary devices whilst trick or treating. Secondly, setting fire to sherbet fountains doesn’t produce the same light effects you get from lighting a firework fountain. I hope whatever you’re planning, be it trick-or-treating, a haunted house, a night of fireworks, or a ritual burning of someone to mollify the anger of a demon or god that you have a great time!
Now, I suppose I should actually talk about the delightful book we discussed this month, no? Are you a fan of superheroes? Then I’ve got the book for you. It’s the delightful Leigh Bardugo’s book, Wonder Woman: Warbringer. DC, not content with putting out comic books, graphic novels, television shows and films, have commission a series of DC Icon books to be written by different authors, each covering a particular hero. Leigh Bardugo, who has previously written books in her Grishaverse, notably the recent Six of Crows duology (well worth picking up if you haven’t read it already), was selected to write the Wonder Woman story. If you’re not a fan of superheroes then don’t worry, there are also nasty villains to support as well. Though, a small spoiler here, it’s not going to end well for them.
This isn’t exactly an origin story, but it’s not far off. Diana is a young Amazon living on the island Themyscira with the other Amazons. Unlike them, she was born on the island, daughter to Queen Hippolyta who made her out of clay, while all of the others died gloriously in battle. They had called out to a goddess in their last moments (“Athena, Chandraghanta, Pele, Banba”) and had been “offered a new life, one of peace and honor among sisters”. “Each Amazon had earned her place on the island. All but Diana, of course.” You quickly get the feeling Diana is a bit of an outsider because of this, suffering minor insults from the other Amazons about not cracking (ah, clay punnery. I don’t think they had any good stand-up comedians to improve the humour sophistication level).
And what does this mean? It means she desires to prove herself. Not only to the other Amazons and her mother, but also to herself that she does have a right to be on the island. So she has entered the footrace in the Nemesian Games, intending to win. Her mother quietly advises her “You do not enter a race to lose,” (showing she clearly wouldn’t have valued all the “Good Effort!” stickers I won at sports day). The footrace is a long way across the island, using any route you like, making it about more than speed, but also strategy to select the best path to win. And Diana has chosen a treacherous one that should give her the edge.
Unfortunately, whilst enjoying the scenery and solitude (since the other Amazons decided to go for more straightforward paths), she hears a cry on the wind. A quick investigation (she can lose a bit of time) discovers a ship has wrecked and is in the process of sinking, just off the rocks of Themyscira. Now, it’s forbidden for an outsider to set foot on the island, so Diana obviously isn’t allowed to rescue anyone. Which means that Diana sacrifices winning the race to break this law, swimming out to find the one survivor still clinging to life and brings her back. She puts the poor girl (Alia) she rescued in a cave and doesn’t reveal her presence to the other Amazons, while she works out how to get Alia off the island and home. So, that’s fine then, right?
Well, no. Some of the other Amazons start sickening, including Diana’s best friend (Maeve). Seeking a solution, Hippolyta intends to seek the advice of the Oracle, but Diana heads their first, guessing (correctly) that Alia is something to do with this. Turns out that Themyscira is poisoned by having an outsider on its shores. In turn, it is poisonous to Alia, meaning that eventually it will kill Alia, but some of the Amazons living on the island may die in turn. To further complicate matters, Alia is of an ancient line stretching back to Helen of Troy, a line cursed that means she is a “Warbringer”. Basically, she inspires conflict just by being near people. I mean it tends to be minor arguments between people at the moment, but with the coming of the New Moon, her powers will massively multiply to inspire war (as in nuclear) between countries.
The Oracle advises Diana to let it be and wait for Alia to die, but does give up an answer that she can save Alia, the Amazons and the whole world. She must get her to the spring at Therapne, where Helen rests, to be purified and “purged of the taint of death that has stained her line from its beginning”.
Diana is going to become Wonder Woman, so as you can guess, she goes for option number two. All she has to do is get herself and Alia off the island, over to Southern Greece to go for a little bathe in a spring before the New Moon rises. Preferably without the other Amazons spotting her, and also keeping Alia safe since there’s quite a few other people determined to kill her to prevent her powers coming to fruition. Technically, they’re the good guys (since they want to prevent nuclear war), but they’re going about it the wrong way. It gets further complicated when leaving the island transports them to New York, since Alia would rather go home than go to Greece. (It’s not like she believes the crazy woman telling her that she’s destined to destroy the world unless she dies or bathes in the spring.) So Diana gets to learn all about modern life which Themyscira has largely ignored (men, clothing, cars). Others join the quest to get Alia to Greece (once Alia is finally convinced that this needs to happen).
Sound good? Don’t worry, as well as the superhero powers, quest to save the world, and bad guys trying to stop Diana from succeeding, we also get some humour, as this little exchange proves:
“Wait a minute,” said Jason. “Can any of us even drive?”
“I drove,” said Theo. “Once.”
“That was a golf cart,” said Alia.
“So? It had four wheels and went vroom.”
“You crashed it into a tree.”
“I’ll have you know that tree had been drinking.”
I enjoyed it, leastways. The other members of the Reading Circle were similarly appreciative. Well, except for one of our newer members, Francis, who complained that we were talking about a load of things that didn’t happen in his version of the book. On being pressed, it did turn out he had simply watched the film Wonder Woman and thought it was the same thing. It isn’t. Francis won’t be returning for a further meeting, I generously signed him up to join Urskuul’s Film Society, meaning he is currently occupied in his thousand years of torment and servitude in Lord Urskuul’s Netherhells Palace. If you’re not a superhero fan, and somewhat repulsed by the overabundance of DC or Marvel at the moment, then perhaps try one of Leigh Bardugo’s other books as she is a fantastic writer and well deserving of your time.
– – –
And now, a word from our sponsor:
Are you bored with conventional shopping? Wandering around aisles and aisles hoping to come across the item you’re looking for, only to be tempted to buy something else due to flashy lighting or attention-grabbing red signs advertising you can get a discount? Well, try Urskuul’s newest venture, Urskuul’s Amazing On-Line Shop, Umazon! (Completely different to a similar-sounding website that coincidentally also sells items over the internet.)
Rather than pay in cash, you can use Soul Payment. All you have to do is sacrifice the appropriate number of animals (goats, chickens, humans who no one will mind if they disappear one day) to pay, and the item will be delivered the next day wherever you are, guaranteed. Even if you happen to be in prison for coincidentally murdering* someone in a somewhat sacrificial setting.
*Umazon in no way encourages you to murder people, although human souls are considerably more valuable than goat ones.