The Valiant is a new novel in the Young Adult Fantasy genre by Lesley Livingston, set to release on February 14th, 2017. I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader Copy, and with my head full of promises about female gladiators and deadly conflict, I dove right in! And despite some minor flaws in the writing style/plot pacing, The Valiant certainly lived up to my expectations!
“Are you a weapon or target?” – Lesley Livingston (The Valiant)
The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha’s legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle. On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father’s royal war band. But she never gets the chance. Instead, Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon’s worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival. Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena—and claim her place in history among the Valiant. (Chapters.Indigo.ca)
The Valiant promised strong female characters, a fast-paced plot and plenty of brutal action, and Livingston delivered on all three. There was certainly no shortage of action, mostly perpetuated by the plethora of female characters, both good and bad. And still, Livingston managed to develop some memorable characters in between all the action and brutality.
Fallon, the youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, quickly finds herself in deep trouble after running away from her disastrous 17th birthday celebration. Fleeing one bad situation lands the protagonist of the story in a worse one, with no hope for escape as she is quickly shackled and hauled across the continent, sold and thrown into the daring and dangerous world of a gladiatrix. Along the way she encounters and befriends several other secondary characters – notably Elka, Decurion Varro, Charon and Lady Achillea, among others. While Fallon was built into a strong female lead, with memorable motivations and relatable struggles, the secondary characters in The Valiant were not very well-rounded, and could have definitely benefited from more attention. What development they did undergo was mainly through direct revelations as the characters revealed truths to Fallon, and this often felt a bit hand-fisted. However, despite the lack of development to secondary characters, should the reader focus on Fallon herself, there is certainly something to be said for Livingston’s attention to detail and prowess when it comes to building a strong protagonist.
The story itself was relatively straight-forward. Livingston crafted a simplistic adventure/coming of age story set in Ancient Rome. Her use of gender-reversal (when it came to the gladiatrices) added a unique element to the story. Furthermore, there was one highly notable plot twist I did not see coming, and I thoroughly enjoyed the direction in which it took the plot. Unfortunately, the uniqueness stopped there. For anyone who has seen Gladiator (2000), an epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott, the parallels to the movie are nearly impossible to ignore. That being said, Gladiator was a pretty darn good movie, and The Valiant, with its gender-swapped roles and unique female-led dynamic, is certainly a rival in terms of quality.
Finally, a brief discussion of Livingston’s writing style. The majority of this novel was marvellously well-written, with a solid tone and engaging dialogue. However, on occasion, Livingston lapsed into an almost juvenile writing style, which completely removed me from the plot. The shifts from a serious tone to a more ridiculous, aloof tone, even in moments of tension, were off-putting. Thankfully, these lapses were few and far between.
Overall, The Valiant was a brilliant introduction into a vivid new world created by Lesley Livingston. Despite some minor issues, The Valiant delivers action, romance, and strong female characters, in addition to a breath-taking interpretation of Ancient Rome, a host of intriguing secondary characters and an interesting dynamic when it comes to the portraying of female relationships. So if you’re looking for a book to add to your 2017 TBR, make sure you don’t miss out on The Valiant by Lesley Livingston! (4/5)