The final book of the first official Pickychick Let’s Hear It for the Boys Week is The Warrior Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima. This book follows Jack Swift, a normal high schooler in Ohio who gets swept up in an ancient ritual to preserve the balance of power between the Weirlind—a society of wizards and warriors living among us—at the least cost of life. Each Weir faction sponsors a warrior in the Game, a battle to the death, with power given to the winning warrior’s faction. Now Jack is caught up in the war for power, and he’s one of the last remaining warriors. Which means he’s got to play the Game.
Jack’s life is pretty normal, except for the heart condition that has plagued him since birth. But when he forgets to take his medicine one day, instead of feeling near death, he feels stronger, faster, and better than ever. It turns out his medicine kept his warrior powers suppressed so he could stay hidden from the warring factions of the Weirlind, who need warriors so desperately that they would kill him to keep the other branches from getting him. Warriors are a dying breed (like really, it might just be Jack left), but necessary in order to play the Game to determine the next ruling faction. He is thrown into desperate training to become ready in time for the Game, while constantly under threat of discovery.
While The Warrior Heir is a fabulous book, the reason it makes this week’s list is because while it spends most of its time behaving like the typical training-of-magical-warrior-type-book, it has these moments where it breaks free to make an interesting commentary. A la Hunger Games, the Game in this book functions as well… a game for the factions and non-combatants, aka everyone but Jack and his opponent. For them, it is a fight to the death, yet not for their own benefit or choosing. It follows the theory of greatest good for the largest number of people, but at the expense of the warriors. And these rules have gotten out of hand—instead of using their own warriors, the factions are picking off their opponent’s.
Warriors are the only way to gain power, and so everyone wants to command one. Jack can’t trust anyone: not his trainer, not his doctor, not his ex-girlfriend, not his crush or his neighbors. All of them have their own agendas, and all of them need Jack—also very similar to Katniss’ situation, though The Warrior Heir did come out first. Those regular humans whom Jack should be able to trust are always vulnerable to becoming pawns of the Weir in order to ensure Jack’s cooperation.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Do not continue reading if you don’t want to know a point or two about how the book ends.
But where Jack really makes a mark is when faced with the fight at last, he doesn’t trounce his enemy like we jaded readers expect. Instead, he refuses to go through with it. Never mind the training, the magical blade, or the threats that got him into the Game to begin with. His rebellion, and ultimately his triumph as a character, come from what he doesn’t do. His refusal actually accomplishes more than even if he had won the battle—a point we would all do well to recognize.
Particularly in times like these, when our country has been locked in war for nearly a decade, a warrior bred to be a killing machine that instead takes a stand for peace and justice is a valuable role model indeed. He sees a broken system and calls it out, but he doesn’t bash it down himself like a vigilante, instead behaving more like a conscientious objector who refuses to be a part of the system at all. As the only person to do that in the past hundred or so years, it’s a pretty radical step.
The series continues in The Wizard Heir and The Dragon Heir, and the jury is still out on whether the series will actually continue or not.