Genre: Historical Fiction, Action Adventure, YA
Publisher: Razorbill on February 14, 2017
Princess. Captive. Gladiator. View Spoiler »
Do you love historical fiction but want a break from the Regency and Victorian eras? Are you a fan of badass lady types and “training school” stories? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then Lesley Livingston’s THE VALIANT is for you.
As a proud warrior and a daughter of a king, Fallon grew up knowing that she would one day be named a member of her father’s war band, the most elite fighters amongst her people. But after the loss of her beloved older sister Sorcha, Fallon’s father fears for her safety and denies her the honour her skills demand…not knowing that this will be the catalyst for the greatest and most dangerous battle of Fallon’s life.
Abducted and sold into slavery, Fallon is thrust into the colourful and chaotic world of the Romans, her sworn enemies. Her goddess, the Morrigan, deals her a heavy blow: Fallon is sold into the service of Julius Caesar himself, the same man who conquered her people and killed her sister. Forced to fight in his name, Fallon trains hard to be a gladiatrix despite the bitter irony of her situation; after all, there are far worse positions a slave could hold. With enemies all around her and dark schemes underway, who can Fallon trust to have her best interests at heart? Could anyone really care about the well-being of a slave?
The world building in THE VALIANT is strong, with rich historical details used to paint a picture of the best and worst parts of life in ancient Rome. Fallon meets slaves from all over the world at the ludus – or gladiatrix training grounds – she trains at, and there are some interesting conversations about gender and race between her and her gladiatorial sisters. In an arena that glorifies spectacle and thirsts for the “exotic,” sexuality and culture are both used as weapons to awe the crowds and win their favour. Let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised that being a gladiatrix involves so much political and social strategizing! I especially loved reading about the differences between Fallon’s culture and that of the Romans, as many of their ways (such as writing contracts) are completely foreign to her.
Luckily for Fallon, she isn’t completely alone in all the madness: she has her new friend Elka to support her, tell her when she’s being an ass, and help her navigate the twists and turns of Roman society. Their friendship was a pleasure to read about, particularly as they began as bitter enemies and slowly bonded over their shared circumstances. Throughout THE VALIANT, there’s a strong “woman power” vibe that permeates everything Fallon does and sees. Fallon, Elka, and their mysterious mistress Lady Achillea are all powerful fighters and cunning strategists who for the most part have a “make the most of it” attitude towards their enslavement. However, this feels a bit uncomfortable at times, as the examination of slavery is somewhat shallow and unsatisfying. Yes, the girls acknowledge that slavery completely disempowers people while simultaneously putting them in potentially influential positions, but it didn’t go much deeper than that. I wanted more!
Aside from the world building and the political undertones, I loved the action scenes depicting training and actual battles in the arena. These scenes move at a breakneck pace, as does the story itself, and there’s a lot going on in THE VALIANT without feeling like it’s too much. That said, there were some moments in the story that had me rolling my eyes, like the various romance plots that were a bit too cheesy even for me. The exact same plot twist is also used twice, which was disappointing because I think Livingston is too talented to need to rely on that kind of narrative laziness.
Despite my gripes, I had a ton of fun reading this and flew through it in only two sittings. If you’re looking for a quick, action-packed read that’s chock-full of badass ladies, then look no further than THE VALIANT.