“…the warrior elite had fascinated her for years, and try though she might she couldn’t bring herself to crawl away.”
An important thing to note as I begin this review is that I truly did enjoy Wildcat by J.P. Harker. Though a rather lengthy novel, both the story and the characters were exceptionally engaging. I found the villains quite wonderful in their devilish nature and loved both the plot and the historical context behind it all. This is one thing that I believe Harker has integrated very well within his novel. Centered around the experiences of the Caderyn Chieftain’s daughter, a young woman who struggles with both her desire to be an elite warrior and for motherhood, as her world is torn apart by the invasion of foreign warriors.
If I were to rate this book on the plot and story alone, I would have given it five stars. Unfortunately, Wildcat has several problems, the majority of them existing in the portrayal of the female characters. While I can understand and greatly respect understandable characteristics of a character’s psyche in regards to trauma, especially when it is well researched and realistic, certain themes presented throughout this novel were rather problematic.
The most glaring of this arrives in the character’s struggle to find a balance between her desire for a family and her desire for the thrill and honor of warfare. The idea that one’s ability to feel like a woman is linked directly to sex with a man and her ability to have children is presented a great number of times and is something that is not only completely inaccurate but disturbing and problematic for anyone who reads it. This is not a theme that should be perpetuated, especially from the perspective of a strong female character. A woman can feel like a woman doing anything and she does not need a man to make her feel like one. Plain and simple.
It is important, also, to note that this book has some triggering moments in it which many readers should be aware of prior to reading. A large one comes in the form of a rape scene, which I was given advance warning of by the author and resultingly have a great deal of respect for him for doing so. I had my own predictions about this scene prior to reading the novel and I was surprised in the most unfortunate of ways. I believe these scenes can be written tastefully and can be useful to a plot or the character’s development when the writing directly addresses the issues surrounding it. Unfortunately, that is not what happened in Wildcat.
Not only did the scene feel deeply unrealistic, but it served very little other than to put Rhia through more trauma. It was not used to make a commentary on the affairs of war and its purpose in the plot was solely to give the main character one more thing to hate herself for. The scene, partially due to the identity of the character who committed the act, was quite unnecessary. Additionally, a time jump prevented readers from ever seeing Rhia work through and overcome the emotional struggles that her experiences had created, which I feel left readers missing out on what could have been a fantastic opportunity for character development.
Another idea presented later in the novel is the idea that a husband has a right to sex. While this idea may be historically accurate, the character’s response to this did not exactly feel realistic due both to her described and portrayed nature as well as the trauma’s she had suffered beforehand. It appeared to be a society driven belief, which is perfectly alright to include in a novel so long as the idea itself is challenged at some point. And I think, ultimately, this is where my biggest problems with the book take place. These problematic ideas are rarely challenged if they’re even challenged at all.
For a society that praises women’s strength and a book meant to portray an exceptionally strong woman, Wildcat is riddled with moments in which the women are torn down by men. I found it rather shocking that, from the very beginning, the role of women is regularly belittled to both what a man can give and what is often portrayed as the restraints of motherhood. It is not something I expected from a book that advertises a character who wishes to be a part of an elite group of warriors. For a woman who was meant to be strong, Rhia was incredibly compliant quite often throughout the course of the novel.
Wildcat‘s writing style is not one that I would suggest for everyone. The book spends a lot of time presenting readers with lengthy thought monologues in between the moments of action and dialogue. There are a large number of over the top descriptions of women’s bodies and occasionally, particularly in the wedding chapters, physical appearance appears to be presented as a marker of women’s importance rather than their strength and intelligence, which I found distracting and frustrating. This was only an issue in the beginning quarter of the novel.
Even so, at the end of the day, I did really love the premise and many of the characters. I think this book has a great deal of potential and I will be reading its sequel because I do believe that it was well written and imagined. I had some problems with it but I think so long as those problems are addressed, understood, and discussed it’s a book worth spending time on.
I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.