A Hero's Tale

by Catherine M. Wilson

Cover image

Series: Women Were Warriors #3
Publisher: Shield Maiden
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 0-9815636-3-5
Format: Kindle
Pages: 301

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A Hero's Tale is the third book in the When Women Were Warriors trilogy, which is best thought of as a single long novel. Reading it independently will miss most of the significance of the plot, since one wouldn't know many of the important characters.

A Hero's Tale follows the pattern of the second book: even less quiet contemplation, and even more in the way of events and plot. Tamras completes her training, in a somewhat unexpected way (and in a rather interesting reworking of gender roles), but then both Maara's past and the problems of A Journey of the Heart catch up with them. There is, accordingly, quite a bit more action, or at least war councils and political maneuvering, than the previous books, and somewhat less time for thoughtful wisdom.

That also means that A Hero's Tale shifts a bit more towards the traditional fantasy coming-of-age story, where the heroine is able to shift armies and win conflicts with an understated and self-deprecating skill that comes inevitably but indirectly out of all of her previous experiences. I think Wilson is still fairly original in how she presents those tropes, with an interesting focus on empathy and compassion that is all too rare in this sort of story, but this book does feel a lot more like a story that one has read before. If you're particularly allergic to that story shape, you may find this entry somewhat disappointing.

One of the things I loved about it, though, was Wilson's avoidance of traditional villains. There is one, so it's not a complete avoidance, but nearly everyone in this story has their own viewpoint and perspective and is on the side of right in their own way. Wilson uses Tamras's empathy and willingness to listen and understand to let the reader see various different perspectives without moving away from the first-person perspective. It's very nicely done.

I thought the handling of the emotional arc of the story was more mixed. Tamras is seriously tested in some moments that aimed for heartbreaking, but I thought they fell short of the emotional punch they were supposed to carry since the story shape had already made it obvious that everything would turn out okay in the end. The story is so gentle that Wilson hadn't established any willingness to end something badly, which robs a lot of the punch from emotional turmoil. I also had quite a bit of trouble with the principle of love above all else, particularly for someone in Tamras's position. Maybe that's because I'm still too entrenched in the attitude towards politics that this series argues against, but I had a hard time not seeing her as personally indulgent. Both of those factors blunted the emotional climax for me, leaving it moving but not as heartbreaking as I think Wilson was aiming for. (This is the point where a friend will tell me that I think too much about books while I'm reading them.)

That said, Wilson continues to write one of the best mentoring relationships that I've seen in fiction. The dynamic between Tamras and Maara is just beautiful, and remains so through the end of the book. So many traditional issues with rivalry, growth, replacement of the mentor, and relative social position that are ignored or dealt with ham-handedly in other stories are handled adeptly and quietly. Maara is by far my favorite character of this series, largely because of how she handles that relationship. I could identify with her more easily than with Tamras at various points in the story, and I thought the understated ending was quietly beautiful.

If you enjoyed the rest of the series, definitely read A Hero's Tale for the conclusion. If you've been hungry for more typical action, you'll get some of it here. I wish a few deep emotions other than love had been in play, but, despite that, When Women Were Warriors is still quietly and delightfully different than most things I've read, and worth the price.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-11-17

Last modified and spun 2017-04-30