The Warrior Who Carried Life by Geoff Ryman (book review).

When Cara is just a young girl, her mother is brutally murdered because she dared to go and seek a vision, a privilege reserved only for men. Cara’s rage does not diminish as she grows older and when she sees an opportunity for revenge she does not hesitate in taking it. Turning herself into a man for a year to worm her way into the palace of the family that killed her mother, Cara plots to kill the man responsible. Yet, as she nears her target, she realises that reality is much darker than she ever imagined and if she is to save her people she must forgo revenge and undertake a quest to the far ends of the earth.


Geoff Ryman’s 1985 reprinted novel, ‘The Warrior Who Carried Life’, is a mixture of fable, allegory and adventure. With a number of references to creation myths a lot of this book might seem like familiar ground. Yet the central character, a woman who has turned herself into a man using sorcery, is quite unlike any I’ve come across before.

I actually found the storytelling in ‘The Warrior Who Carried Life’ to be a bit stilted, particularly at the start of the novel. A series of events happen in rapid succession, some of which are quite brutal, but there isn’t any time devoted to exploring them. I felt like the emotions and tensions that should have been present didn’t quite make it onto the page and the style seemed almost documentary. This made it hard to sympathise with the main character, Cara, as we experienced none of her pain nor the burning anger that we are told is present.

I’d like to say that I enjoyed it more as the book went on, but because there wasn’t much in the way of engagement at the beginning, it was very difficult to care what happened later on. Things all seemed remarkably easy for Cara and again it seemed more like we were being presented with a series of facts rather than being involved in the story. There were no real obstacles for her to overcome and so it was even difficult to rejoice in her triumphs.

There were only really two characters to whom any time was devoted, Cara and her lover/partner, Stefile. Good characters can save a mediocre plot but, in this case, the characters lacked depth and I just couldn’t connect with them.

If you do decide to read ‘The Warrior Who Carried Life’ and, I’m sure some of you will really enjoy it, I’d suggest that you avoid reading the introduction until after you’ve finished the story. It gives away far too much in terms of plot and goes into too much detail analysing what it all means and represents. Perhaps this is part of the reason I didn’t enjoy it very much: too much had been given away before the story started.

Thankfully, because there was no dallying around any of the plot, this is a short book and I finished it very quickly. For me, it failed to deliver on storytelling and character engagement and I think I’d take some convincing to read another book by Ryman.

Vinca Russell

May 2013

(pub: ChiZine Publications. 300 page paperback. Price: £11.13 (UK), $16.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-92746-938-5)

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