Monday, August 15, 2011

When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson


Shining A Spotlight On Amazing Books From The Last Few Years

With Special Guest Reviewer, BAXTER CLARE TRAUTMAN, author of The River Within

Trilogy:  When Women Were Warriors
               Book 1: The Warrior’s Path
               Book 2: A Journey of the Heart
               Book 3: A Hero’s Tale
Author: Catherine M. Wilson
Publisher: Shield Maiden Press

Have you ever been wandering about your day and been suddenly struck by a remembered fragment of dream? A fragment so curious you stopped to wonder, was that a dream, or did it really happen? Reading When Women Were Warriors felt much like walking through a half-realized dream – did Catherine M. Wilson make this up, or did this really happen?

When Women Were Warriors is fantasy, but reads like the best historic fiction. The tale isn’t set in a specific time - one assumes from the title that the time has passed, but it could well take place in the future, when “it is the custom that a free woman leave her mother’s house to bind herself and those of her blood to a neighboring clan, either by the sword or the cradle.”

That is what Tamras, the main character does, binding herself to the house of Lady Merin, where her mother and aunts were bound before her. Tamras becomes companion to Maara, a mysterious outsider from the North, with whom her alliances to House and clan are quickly tested. In choosing alliances, young Tamras has little to rely on other than instinct.

Tamras is innocent but not unwise. She doubts herself, and makes mistakes, albeit well intentioned mistakes, in the service of her enigmatic warrior, Maara. Indeed, much of the story’s tension revolves around Maara’s identity and intent. Who is she? Where does she come from? Who were her people? The screw turns tighter when Maara reports that warring Northern tribes plan to make a winter raid on the house of Merin. Sides must be chosen - to believe the stranger among them and prepare for war, risking entrapment and ambush, or ignore Maara’s warning and take the chance of being overrun?

As in the best mythic epics (think Beowulf, but comprehensible and with girls) Tamras’ subsequent initiation into the world of warriors is fraught with danger, mystery and sacrifice. Through trials and initiation, she is transformed from a child into a young woman of burgeoning wisdom.

I have to admit I was thrilled when Salem asked me to write a guest review. I must also admit that when she gave me my choice of novels, I was less than thrilled.

Aw, man, Baxter!  You make me sound like a blogging bully - for the record, I never threatened to take your milk money, I just grovelled unmercilessly. SW

Unless you stretch Stephen King into the category, I have never willingly read fantasy. Not my genre of choice. But I trusted Salem. If she said When Women Were Warriors was great then it must be great. My last admission? She was right.

Like the stories Tamras was told as a child, and that she passes on to her homeless warrior, Wilson’s tale is mythic. In the lyric voice of an ancient bard, Wilson has incorporated all the classic archetypes - the wise one, the innocent, the warrior, villain, hermit, and fool – in the time-honored duels of good and evil, pride and humility, heart and ego. Her tale is tender without being sappy, sad without being maudlin, passionate without sentimentality, and joyful without silliness.

Much of literature is grossly indulgent, with every desire immediately sated, each whim acted upon as quickly as it is conceived. One of the more endearing aspects of When Women Were Warriors is that it unfolds gradually. Love develops of testing, trust, and knowledge, not an itch. Healing takes place painfully, slowly, and imperfectly, not as a miracle cure. Much in Ms. Wilson’s story remains private, unspoken, or unseen, and her writing’s strength lies in the subtle use of what is not revealed. As in life, When Women Were Warriors is veiled in mystery, slowly revealing itself as Book I segues into Book II and then Book III.

I must also confess the title put me off a wee bit. I was afraid When Women Were Warriors might be a glorified tome for man bashing. Instead, this is a powerful tale of women’s wisdom, in which men have a significant and well-respected purpose. As Ms. Wilson explained, it makes sense that women be the fighters, because a woman who has carried a child “will hold life dear differently than someone who has not.”

Within her fabled kingdom (again, think Heorot, only ruled by girls) Catherine Wilson creates a magical sense of place, and of belonging to that place. Within that, she also tells how it feels to not belong, while reminding us it usually isn’t the place that won’t have us, but rather that we won’t have it. Ms. Wilson’s is a tale of bone wisdom. It whispers of what we remember when we sleep at night and dream. It calls us to remember that women had, and still have, a wise and powerful place in the world. Our only weakness is in forgetting that place.

When Women Were Warriors gets a dreamy 5.5 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale. 

Salem never at any point threatened to take my milk money...however, the frozen chocolate-covered banana is another story! Seriously, I am indebted to you, Salem. Not only for the kick in my pink Spandex hot pants that catapulted me from my literary comfort zone, but for the opportunity to then rave about what you helped me discover. BCT


  1. I have wanted to to offer reviews of older books in addition to newer releases for while, and am wildly thrilled and honored that Baxter helped me launch this new series. So, thank you, Baxter!!

    If anyone wants to suggest a review of an older book that you loved or are interested in reading, please send me an email or leave a comment here on the blog. I'm also looking for guest reviewers to help out, so if you are interested in joining the maddness that is The Rainbow Reader, let me know. Thanks, everyone!

  2. Great job, Baxter. WWWW is on my Kindle and I'll be bouncing it up to the top after your well done review.
    Thanks, Salem for the idea of sharing older works. We older works appreciate it.


  3. Thanks, Baxter, for the stunning and very insightful review. (And I will certainly be using the line: Think Beowulf, but comprehensible and with girls.)

    For those who are not fans of fantasy, I want to mention that I never considered WWWW to be fantasy. There are no magical creatures, no magical spells (except for the ones that the people of that time and place would have believed in), no magical powers. Everything that happens in the book could have happened in the real world.

    While lovers of fantasy are glad to include it in the genre, I felt that setting the story in a fantasy universe would imply that women can be powerful only in a world that doesn't really exist. I wanted my hero to accomplish what any young woman of today can accomplish and by similar means.

    Just a reminder:
    the first book of the trilogy is available as a FREE download in multiple ebook formats from my author website here:

  4. How about the "Shadows of Aggar" and following "Fires of Aggar" by the sadly missed, Chris Anne Wolfe? I think well worth another look. S Libby

  5. Anonymous - great minds must think alike!! Chris Anne Wolfe's Aggar Series is in the on-deck circle for REWIND. I expect it to run in sometime in the next 2 to 3 weeks. Thanks a bunch for the suggestion - makes me feel great about this series. Thanks, also, for, stopping by to read Baxter's review of W4.

  6. I'm the editor of When Women Were Warriors. Along with thanking Baxter for her wonderful review, I just wanted to add to Catherine's comments above that the books are historical fiction taking place in Bronze Age Europe (possibly Britain or Ireland). The reasons for choosing this time period are explained on the Shield Maiden Press website:

    Donna E. Trifilo

  7. Wow, Donna! Thanks for adding the info - as someone who has read the series, it is greatly appreciated!

  8. Catherine and Donna - My very bad for calling the novel fantasy. It just goes to show my ignorance of both fantasy AND historical fiction genres. (Salem, this is what happens when you let amateurs play on your site!)

    I read the setting explanation at Shield Maiden Press and wish it had been included as a forward or some such. It makes When Women Were Warriors that much richer in that suddenly it becomes well within the realm of possibility. See? I wasn’t just dreaming. This really could have happened….

  9. You know, this whole conversation brings up an interesting topic for discussion - reader perception. We all have certain types of books that we tend to reach for, and others that we tend to avoid. Usually because we tried them in the past,or because we just think we can't make the leap to the land of enjoyment. But, every now and then we do make the leap, and sometimes we find we like what we leap into, and other times we find that the place we leap is very different from where we expected to land. My personal leap was 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' - I thought I should read it for the cultural experience, but what I found inside morphed into a life altering experience that still resonates today. Didn't see that coming, but it was well worth the leap from my cozy wheelhouse.

  10. This sounds like a really great book, much better than I would've thought from the title alone. I'll probably check it out.

  11. Natazzz - I think you will be glad you did, it is a great story, has strong characters, and is empowering on multiple levels. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. I myself had been looking for a book like WWWW for a very long time and each book I read just seem to fall short a little from what I was looking for. I must say the title had me hooked immediately. I fell in love with the book just reading the fist lines. I knew right then I would be purchasing the whole set. By then end of the last book I found myself wishing she would write more. I have not another book that grabs me the way Cathrines did. I probably never will, but I won't stop my search!

  13. Rachel - thanks for stopping by TRR! I know what you mean about WWWW - I can't tell you how many times I've read this series myself....I love it more every time, and I'm pleased to know that women are still discovering and falling in love with it.

  14. Loved this trilogy, bought the Kindle versions and then the signed paperback copies from Catherine, money well spent. A fantastic novel, I found myself wishing I was Tamras. A breath taking read. Thankyou Catherine xx

  15. A fantastic novel, indeed. Thanks for stopping by TRR, and letting readers know how you feel.

  16. Simone SchwegmannMay 12, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    I read the first book in the WWWW series, yesterday and it was absolutely amazing! My favorite genre is historical fiction, and I truly believe that this is my absolute favorite so far - and I've read 1000s so that's definitely saying something. What I liked most about the book was the way you were drawn into the characters, and how the style of writing suited the book to perfection. The strong nature of the characters was emphasized by the strong diction used throughout the book; and I can't thank the author and editor enough for letting the book 'skip through time'. Seriously, this is one of the very few books I've read every single word of. I can't say how nice it was to not have to skip over half a book out of boredom. It's so sad how many books these days have such potential, and yet they put their readers to sleep due to what is purely a poor structure and lack of creativity with conveying the plot.

    I absolutely cannot wait to read the next installments.

  17. It's a bad way of story telling which makes people sleep halfway travelling through it. Wonder why?

  18. Hi from UK! I was at L Fest 2011 when Catherine M. Wilson read an excerpt from WWWW, and whilst very well written, it just didn't seem like my taste. However, having read your review I will give it a go...

  19. Hello! I just finished the first WWWW, and I can't wait to get the second. I love this story and how the characters are opening up to me. I was so taken by it that I read it in a day! The stories within this story were just as awesome. Thanks :)

    1. Hi there, S&P! Thanks for swinging by TRR. WWWW is an awesome series, and Catherine M. Wilson is an equally awesome woman and writer. Have fun!