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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"The Valiant: The Valiant Book 1" by Lesley Livingston (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)





OVERVIEW: Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

FORMAT: The Valiant is a YA fantasy/historical novel. It is listed as fantasy because of its alternative version of history and doesn't contain any real magic or other typical fantasy elements. The Valiant stands at 372 pages and was published February 14, 2017 by Razorbill.

ANALYSIS: The YA genre has a habit of creating unique, likeable characters, but many books tend to 'fall in line' and follow a bit of a template format. That isn't to say they are bad, just they tend to all play out in a very similar fashion. The Valiant is one of those rare YA novels that starts out with a setup that makes you think you know what is going to happen and how things are going to play out, and before you know it nothing – and I mean nothing – happens the way you expect it to happen.

The Valiant starts off with Fallon training with her secret boyfriend. Fallon is trying a very daring and difficult fighting technique that very few have every accomplished. Learning this technique, and fighting, allows her to follow in the footsteps of her older sister – Sorcha – and become a part of her father's fighting team. Sorcha was killed several years ago in battle and there is a prophecy of sorts that says the same thing will happen to Fallon. Even with this prophecy in place, Fallon still wants to become one of the greatest warriors of all times.

The big day finally arrives and Fallon is set about to formally accept the invitation to join her father's troop of warriors, but things don't play out the way she thinks it will. Her father, instead of asking her to join as a warrior, announces that he has promised her hand in marriage. And who is she promised to? The brother of her secret boyfriend. Fallon is furious and storms out in a fit of rage.

This may sound familiar. A girl in love with a secret boyfriend, promised to the boyfriend's brother, and meanwhile she has her heart set on becoming a fierce warrior and living up to her older sister's huge reputation. It certainly sounds like the same old, same old, but sometimes books have a way of surprising you.

Literally, within the first few chapters, things took an unexpected turn and from there just kept getting better and better. Of course, there were a few things that were predictable or easily guessed at, but for the most part this book had a lot of unexpected twists and turns that made for an amazing story. I don't want to say too many of them because I think the 'unknown' is what made them so great, but things really aren't what they seem.

I will say that if anyone had asked me to describe this book early on, I would have said that it was one of those romance novels that are marketed as alternative historical fiction but are really just about love, romance, and love triangles. The beginning of the book certainly feels like that would be the case, but it turns out differently.

If you are planning on reading The Valiant and aren't a fan of romance, I give you this piece of advice – don't give up. I think, if anything, that is the biggest weakness of the novel, is that it starts off with a major romance almost shoved at the reader, and it isn't really indicative of how the tone of the rest of the novel. I feel people who might have enjoyed the novel could have set it aside because of its almost romance/love triangle beginning.

There are other aspects, besides the unexpected twists and turns, of The Valiant that make it outstanding. Livingston does an amazing job of detailing an Ancient Roman society. Readers aren't bogged down with huge paragraphs of historical context or descriptions, but everything from the culture to the political structure is laid out in a way that is easily understandable. I am by no means an expert on Ancient Rome, but I certainly felt as if I was right there

Another amazing aspect of The Valiant was the actual follow through of creating a kickass female character. Some novels promise that they have this amazing kickass, tough female and by the end of the book I think "I could take her". The follow through just wasn't there. Not with Fallon and even her supporting cast of characters.

Fallon was tough. The world she grew up in and found herself in was tough. She had to do a lot to survive that she never expected she would have to do. The other girls in the sisterhood of warriors were just as tough, just as brutal, and it really helped make this novel what it is.

The absolute last thing that has to be mentioned is the fight scenes that take place in the arena. I am a reader who prefers character development over action/fights, but this book really had me yearning to read more about what happened inside the arena. The action scenes were detailed, but not overly graphic and they were super suspenseful. I honestly felt like I was in the arena watching the women fight it out.

The Valiant is just the first book of a series, but I have to say the way it ends, it could very well be a standalone. There are plenty of adventures readers can be taken on it the future and I will gladly follow along, but it is a complete solid single novel.

The Valiant was a surprising read for me. I wasn't 100% sure what to expect or even if I would like it at all. What I ended up with was an amazing novel that really took me for an adventure and back in time. I can't wait to read the sequel. Give this novel a shot if you are a fan of Ancient Rome, kickass female leads, and action/fight scenes that are realistic.

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