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Book Review: The Ascendancy of Warriors by J.L. Nicely

Title: The Ascendancy of Warriors

Author: J.L. Nicely

Publisher: Braintree Press

Publication Date: October 7, 2020

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted, female-authored

Earlier this year I had the great privilege of meeting J.L. Nicely, who was kind enough to provide me with copies of the first 2 books in her Womara Series. They were, quite simply, everything I wanted them to be, and getting a sneak peek at the cover blurb for The Ascendancy of Warriors left me anxious to get the book in my hands.

I said in my review of the last book that the series was beginning to expand upon its theme of female empowerment, working towards balance and equality, and we see that struggle come to fruition here. What makes it really interesting is the way the story expands its cast to explore that question of gender on new levels, most notably with the introduction of Halla, reluctant wife to the traitor Thomas and would-be barbarian Queen. In many ways, she represents everything that men fear about powerful women, but the truth is that she’s more like those men than she is the Womara. There were so many ways Nicely could have resolved her character, I was fascinated to see how she ultimately defined herself.

Where Warrior Rising was largely about what happens after battle, about the personal relationships that build community, The Ascendancy of Warriors is much more about gathering that community to prepare for battle . . . even while finding ways to transform conflict into community. There are betrayals aplenty to this volume, dark acts that threaten everything Seanna, James, Dian, and Arden have been working toward, but there are also surprising alliances and compromises to be found – some of which smartly subvert reader expectations. Where so many epic fantasies focus on simply defeating the enemy and declaring victory, the battles here are all fought with an awareness of what peace may look like.

There’s a fourth romance added to the mix in this volume, a young love between a Womara scout and a young man raised by the clan, and I loved the way Nicely used that relationship to explore what it means to be a man who bridges so much. We also get to see more of the enemy here, and the way the story stirs empathy for the likes of James, even as it erodes the sympathy we began feeling for Ormond in the last book, is fantastic. The whole conflict forces us to question motives and justifications and to face the consequences of our actions.

The Ascendancy of Warriors does deliver upon the violence and bloodshed to which we’ve been led to expect, and it isn’t afraid to placed beloved characters in jeopardy. Characters die, and for every one we cheer, there’s another that we mourn. I was very pleased with certain developments, surprised by others, and initially disappointed by another, but in the end I’d rather the bold choice than the safe one. Overall, The Womara Series is well worth the read, and well worth discovering.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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