Warrior Princess

Warrior Princess

Author: Frewin Jones

Publication: Harper Teen, 2009

Pages: 352

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Branwen ap Griffith is a princess of Garth Milain, a fortress lying on the border between the people of dark ages Britain and the Saxons.  Her brother, Geraint, is killed by Saxon raiders, and Branwen is sent south to get married and be kept safe from the coming war.  But Branwen was raised as a hunter.  She loves the forest, riding her horse, and hunting game with her slingshot.  She feels utterly out of place in the wealthy courts of Brython, where women are expected to be little more than bejeweled showpieces.  She quickly rebels against her new role, earning her both enmity and respect from the people of her new court.  Branwen soon takes to the forests, where a mysterious falcon, a young boy on the run, and the ancient goddess Rhiannon, drive her towards her true destiny – to become the warrior princess who will save her people.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Jones did a great job of throwing us into the time period.  Everything about Branwen’s life felt very realistic – her clothes, the food, the buildings, the customs.  The only exception was that things weren’t as dirty and uncomfortable as they probably would have been in reality.  But I can forgive that, because in Branwen’s eyes things wouldn’t have been dirty.  Quite the opposite, the court of Doeth Palas in the south would have been far cleaner and more luxurious than anything she was used to.

Jones doesn’t shy away from making be battles bloody and violent.  In fact, she doesn’t shy away from violence at all.  Branwen is a hunter.  She takes down game and guts it.  She’s surrounded by soldiers in a time of war, and they can be violent with one another.  It all adds to the period realism of the book.

While there are some fantastic elements to the story – particularly the appearance of the goddess Rhiannon and her efforts to push Branwen along the path to her destiny – those elements never take over the story.  For the most part, Jones keeps the book grounded in a gritty reality, in which the fantastical elements of Branwen’s life are treated as just that – moments of fantasy intruding on the very real and violent world in which she lives.

What I Liked the Least: The cover.  It gives the impression that this is going to be some medieval romance novel.  That’s very misleading.  While Branwen might have brief moments of attraction to one of the men in the story, this is far from a romance.  The focus is on Branwen’s journey to becoming a true warrior, and while it may not be the grittiest book I’ve ever read, Jones does not stint on the blood and violence.   That makes the cover a very unfortunate choice.  People expecting a romance might be turned off and people looking for a good adventure story might never pick it up.

Second, while Jones overall does a good job of balancing emotion and action, her final battle scene was strangely lacking in emotion.  Branwen is thrust into a huge and gruesome battle, with people dying all around her.  She slips on severed limbs, is coated in blood, and kills many, many people.  Killing itself is unusual in a teen novel, and this is a vicious and terrifying battle where Branwen is basically hacking people’s limbs off and cutting their throats.  But I never felt her terror at being thrust into that kind of situation for the first time, nor did I feel her horror at having to kill in such a violent fashion.  In the end, it all felt a bit mechanical.

…Spoiler Alert…

The final battle also felt very unrealistic.  There were 1,000 Saxons pitted against 250 Brythons.  The Brythons didn’t use any special tactics and didn’t even stay behind the walls of their fortress.  They just rode out to meet the Saxons in open battle.  Realistically, they should have been slaughtered.  And if not, then they should have been using some crazy, unexpected strategies to pull off a victory.  That’s not what happens.  Somehow, they manage to route the Saxons – an outcome I didn’t believe for a minute.

…More Spoilers…

When Branwen rescues her friend, Rhodri, from Prince Lew, the ruler of Doeth Palas, and flees with him into the forest I was expecting an all out chase, with Prince Lew and his men hard on their heels and a final race to get to Garth Milain before they are captured.   It never happened.  They never even saw any of Prince Lew’s soldiers.  I was disappointed to say the least.

How Good was the Action?  Overall it’s quite well done.  In most of the fight scenes Jones does a good job of mixing blow-by-blow details with big-picture action to push things forward.  It’s easy to feel Branwen’s exhaustion and pain as she struggles to raise her sword again, or as an axe smashes into her shield and her arm goes numb.  The only downside is that the final battle is too short and her emotions as she goes through the fight feel quite mechanical.  But overall I liked the action, and for a book by a female author with a female lead there was actually quite a lot of it.

How Engaging was the Story? I definitely got into Branwen’s character.  It was easy to feel the loss of her brother, her sense of isolation at being forced to leave her family and go south, and her obvious discomfort living among the people of Doeth Palas.  Jones does a good job at establishing her friendship with Rhodri, her mixed feelings of attraction and hate for Iwan, and her refusal to follow the path set out for her by the goddess Rhiannon.  The story had real depth, and kept me turning the pages right up to the end.

Overall Assessment: Jones has written a solid medieval adventure.  Her characters have real depth, the setting tingles with life, and there’s plenty of blood to spare.  That makes this book especially interesting, as it’s not one of your typical female-driven adventure novels – which tend to be heavy on the romance and light on action.  It might not be for everyone, but if you can get beyond the misleading cover, Warrior Princess is definitely worth checking out.

Profanity:  None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  This book can be fairly bloody, with descriptions like, “She moved sideways.  Her feet slithered on something lumpy and wet.  A severed leg.”  Or “He stood staring with bulging eyes for a moment, the battle axe slipping from his fingers; then a fountain of blood gushed from his mouth.”    

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