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Janet Paisley
Warrior Daughter
Penguin £7.99
Review by Catherine Woodward

 

.....With Warrior Daughter Janet Paisley set herself a number of challenges, and following this demonstrated a surprising ability for writing novels by meeting all of them. Warrior Daughter has gracefully managed to steer clear of some fantastic potholes. There’s a danger of the Iron Age; like any prehistoric time, the lack of firm fact can breed terrible shadows of the self indulgent and mystical that can kill a story, have it flung aside and left under old phonebooks and newspapers. For Paisley the wild land of the druids could at any time have drifted off into painful fantasy, if of course her extensive research and her beautiful feet on the ground approach to her characters hadn’t perfectly secured it from the start.
.....Yes her heroine is a warrior princess, but a young girl growing up none the less, a girl discovering things, a girl with a family, pride and quite naturally a fluctuating sense of self. While the wild and magical setting only intensifies the various animalities of body and emotion, Paisley gives it space to take the back seat, to make Skaaha a hero and a young woman. She lets relationships and identity succeed the immediate pressures of war and battle which provide the overarching narrative to the book, so despite the parts in her story being played by people in robes and bear skins, they are all of them remarkably tangible and touching. They all form something irrepressibly recognisable as a family, which is a particularly difficult thing to resist warming to. Reading I could not help hearing echoes of The Colour Purple and To Kill a Mocking Bird.
.....Perhaps the former came to mind because everything about this book is a special kind of feminist. Once Paisley’s matriarchal background is in place, like her wilds and warriors, it gently gives way to the complications of womanhood, the body, what woman is as itself, only itself, and particularly the dangers and connections of women to other women. This is an enlightening use of the time period, it could just as well demonstrate the evils of subordination in patriarchy by revealing in practise its opposite, but in an intelligent turn we have instead a harmony between the sexes in a discovery and celebration of what makes them both beautiful in themselves. What we know of druid religion and ideology couches all this conveniently, magnifying this message of Paisley’s by exalting the power of sexual bodies (Paisley has done extremely well to mix these things).
.....The only danger is that the plot (Queen Mara’s treachery, the suspiciousness of the queen’s death) are very very obvious, but perhaps that gentleness is doing the favour of balancing out the emotional and actual ferocity of the book. Graphic and terrifying, while not narratively tense the book is still forceful in its own way. Gentle in plot and vicious in story, Paisley has filled her book with too many other merits to berate her book harshly, if at all.
.....The time period, the druid beliefs that shape this story into what it is (and Skaaha our hero of course) transform what we know as woman into something intense, holy, powerful and volatile, definitions lost on today and Paisley’s evil queen that haunts her story can be seen as an abuse of the characteristics that makes the feminine great. Paisley’s message is a clearly beautiful thing set in an ugly time and an effort deserving of some applause. Everything about this book is enchanting; Paisley has handled the time, the setting, its heroes and villains, with all their demands, carefully and well.

 

 

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