Title: Unconquered Warrior
Author: J.L. Nicely
Publisher: Braintree Press
Publication Date: July 8, 2018
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Shelves: Female-fronted, female-authored
This was a book that was nothing like I expected, and yet everything I wanted it to be. Unconquered Warrior is an epic fantasy novel that advances the theme of female empowerment even as it places so many of the familiar genre tropes in new skin.
This a book that is entirely unapologetic about pointing out the sexist, chauvinistic behavior of a patriarchal society, but rather than make it a story of villainous absolutes, J.L. Nicely focuses on the strength of relationships between women and the potential for change within men.
That being said, the story opens on an exceptionally dark note as we see Rowan and the women of her village captured, raped, and sold off as slaves. Part of me wishes there had been a less traumatic way to establish the need for and value of the Womara, but I don’t think anything else would have had the same impact – or allowed Rowan to make such a powerful stand. From there, we fast forward several generations, picking up the story of Seanna, a Womara scout who stands poised at the tipping point for the next major movement in the rise of women.
Although this is mostly Seanna’s story, she shares the history of Rowan with others, allowing us to bear witness to the entire history of Womara. It is fascinating to see how the community came to be, and even more exciting to see how it evolved into a culture worthy of political consideration. Nicely gives us women who live and love on their terms, women who are mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers, and warriors. These are women worthy of respect and admiration, without sacrificing their femininity, and it is heartening to see powerful men come to that same realization.
When the threads of romance began to slip into the story, I wondered how that would play out, but I needn’t have worried. There is a balance within those relationships that puts men and women on equal terms, able to claim the same sexual freedoms and make the same decisions about their bodies. Rather than demanding the Womara sacrifice something of their agency in the name of love, it is the men who must open their minds if they are to open their hearts.
There is plenty of action to the novel as well, some of it borne from the need for women to prove themselves in combat, and some of it owing to the violence of men who look to raid and conquer. There are threats to the wider land, both in Rowan’s time and Seanna’s, and one epic battle that acts as the catalyst for the evolution of one generation to another.
Unconquered Warrior is a fantastic read, full of strong characters and clever intrigues, that I heartily recommend regardless of your gender. The struggle for women is integral to the story, but the themes of love, duty, honor, and friendship are universal. I have a copy of Warrior Rising sitting before me and am as anxious for the release of The Blood of Warriors as anything else coming this winter.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2
My sincere thanks to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.