This is the book that started it all for me. Published by DelRey (Ballantine) in 1984, ISBN 0345309197. Sadly out of print, but still available in used bookstores. Strong women ahead of their time – my biggest influence.
Basically, a mercenary captain is approached by a woman who tries to hire his company to free her enslaved city from a wizard with delusions of grandeur. When Sun Wolf says “no way Jose,” because he’s too smart to mess with magic, she kidnaps him to teach the women to fight for themselves. (A nasty poison for which they alone have the antidote helps convince him.) He starts out thinking women are only good for one thing. Then he starts training them – teenage girls, whores, nuns and everything in-between, and learns how strong women are. Heart, mind. Stubborn, desperate, never-give-up. Idealists. Realists. Fighters. The women start out shy, trained to walk eyes-downcast-veiled-in-public-one-step-behind-a-man. But all the men were enslaved to the wizard’s mines and the women had to take over the businesses, the hunting and fishing – and they learned they could do everything just as well as their men.
They men were in for a hell of a shock when they got home.
It’s a book of enormous character growth. People who believe one thing at the beginning and another at the end, and are stronger for the journey.