Review: The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston (The Valiant #1)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Action Adventure, YA

Publisher: Razorbill on February 14, 2017

Source: Library

Princess. Captive. Gladiator. 

  

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.

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  • This sounds really cool — I’ve enjoyed most novels based on Rome in some way (e.g., Furies of Calderon, Red Rising), so maybe I’ll like this too!

    • OMG, Furies of Calderon! It’s been ages since I read that, but I remember it being so fun. I really need to get back into that series because as you said: Ancient Rome is a great setting.

  • I’ve read mostly really strong reviews for this book, and I love the idea of strong female friendships. I’m so curious about the plot twists now! I may have to read this just to find out about them.

    • Most people loved it! Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for it, haha. Oooh yeah, those plot twists…I’d be very interested in hearing your take on them, Tammy. 🙂

  • I definitely loved this book more than you, but I can totally see where you’re coming from with regards to the cheesiness, lol. I guess it was part of the book’s charm and why I liked it so much. It made a fun read, and like you I just blew through it and had a very good time 🙂

    • It’s so odd, normally I don’t mind cheesiness at all! I’m thinking that this may have been a case of the wrong book for my mood, haha. Oh yeah, I sped through this one way more quickly than I normally read!

  • Greg Hill

    I have seen mixed reviews so I’m curious! I love the premise and one review I read said there wasn’t enough action in the actual arena? But it doesn’t sound like you had trouble with that? And I love that the gladiatrixes bond and form relationships, including an enemies- to -ally relationship. Nice. that’s one thing I liked about the Gladiator movie with Russell Crowe- the way they fought together.

    You are definitely making me want to read this with your review! I just love the sound of it. I’m also fascinated by the dichotomy between regimented, organized Roman society and the (presumably) wild Celtic peoples (assuming that’s where she’s from).

    • Hmm yeah, you know I can see why people would feel that there wasn’t enough action in the arena because I think there are only two actual arena scenes. But my bloodthirsty need for battles was satisfied by all the training scenes and sparring, so it didn’t bother me! If you liked Gladiator than I definitely think you’d enjoy this one, Greg.

      Fallon is indeed a Celt! I really liked her outsider perspective on Rome, because it was a good way to learn a ton of historical details about the time period. If you pick this one up, hopefully you enjoy it! 🙂

  • I am curious, but at the same time I do not know

    • This one has had some pretty mixed reviews, so it’s hard to decide for sure.

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Ah, sorry you didnt enjoy this one more!

  • Sara Letourneau

    I’ve read a couple other reviews for The Valiant, and the one thing that’s jumping out at me now that hadn’t before is the friendship between girls and the overall “women power” vibe. I don’t think we see enough of either in YA fantasy, so that’s good to hear. I’m still catching up of a number of new books, so maybe I’ll get to The Valiant over the summer.

    • That was by far my favourite aspect of the book, Sara! I especially enjoyed the fact that Fallon’s first impressions about other women in the story are slowly challenged and she comes to appreciate them, and even make some strong friendships. I think this would be a great summer read! 🙂

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    The cheesy romantic plot would be a source of nitpicking for me as well, but I believe the action, historical roots and cultural comparisons would be more than enough to counterbalance a few little disturbances… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Couldn’t agree more! Cheesy romance isn’t my thing (which is saying a lot, because I loooove reading about love) but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this one too much. After all, how often do you get to read about a gladiatrix?!

      • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

        Sadly, I finished this one a couple of days ago, and the romantic elements did not sit well with me – and that happened with a few other details: pity, because there was so much potential in this story….

  • Ok, I am pretty convinced I want to read but I am definitely going to hassle my library to help me read it. I love the whole girl power thing going on (It has to be girl power because Spice Girls) so that has intrigued me. And the fact that it does look at different cultures within the roman empire because it’s easy to forget the romans basically invaded a whole bunch of places. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it but we shall see.

    • Yes Becky, hassle those librarians! Hahahaha…hopefully they never see this because they may take my librarian card away. 😂

      Now I’m picturing the Spice Girls as gladiators, which is awesome beyond belief. The girl power vibes were definitely strong in this one, and it was my favourite part of the whole story! I wouldn’t have said no to a few more training montage-type scenes, haha. I’m excited to eventually hear your take on this one, Becky!

      • Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Don’t want them to revoke your librarian privileges. I’m picturing access to the holy grail of libraries is what you get with comfy sofas and first dobs on all the good books. It may not be true, but that’s what happens when you’re a librarian in my mind.

        I can totally picture the Spice Girls as gladiators. They would sing terrible pop songs that get stuck in your head and defeat all their enemies.

  • I was initially pretty excited about this one, but I hear that it’s going to be a series, so I’m waiting to for the series to be out before deciding if I want to read it. I have to say the world building and all that girl power and friendship sounds great! Plus, it’s gladiators, so I’m definitely interested. BUT AHH! 🙁 That’s so sad about the romance being cheesy at times. I’m glad you liked it overall, and I’ll keeping an eye out for your review of the sequel when it releases/you read it! 🙂

    • Me too, I totally thought this was going to be a standalone for some reason! Kind of bummed that it’s not, but hopefully more books in the series means that we’ll get more action scenes and delve more deeply into the secrets of Ancient Rome. I definitely wouldn’t mind that, haha. UGH the romance was such a disappointment for me! Especially because there was a secondary romance hinted at that was also pretty cheesy. One I can handle, but two is just too much for me!

  • Weeell, I’m glad you liked this book overall (and didn’t hate it)! I read it back when it was just a standalone and I loved it so much. But now there is a sequel to follow… I am very nervous. o_o I didn’t love the whole girl power vs. enslavement thing, like you. It felt weird, to be all “yaaasss girl power” when they are literally enslaved and forced to fight. D:

    Great review, Danya! Have a wonderful week. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    • Throwback to the time when this was going to be a standalone! Haha. Hopefully the sequels will be satisfying; I read a few of Lesley Livingston’s other series before I started blogging and I remember that they typically got stronger as they went on. Fingers crossed! Phew, what a relief to hear that I’m not the only one who felt that way. It was a bit uncomfortable for sure, especially since their treatment as slaves was totally glossed over.

      Thanks Alyssa, you too! 🙂

  • I read historical fiction, but it’s been awhile since I’ve ventured this far back into historical fiction. I have to admit, the woman power you described and the friendship between Fallon and Elka sounds simply wonderful!

    • Normally when I’m in the mood for historical fiction I gravitate towards historical fantasy or historical romance, so it was refreshing to read something that was just straight-up historical fiction for a change! The setting was also quite different from what I normally read, so that was fun too. Fallon and Elka’s relationship was a delight to read about! 🙂

  • Lynn Williams

    I confess I loved this – cheese and all. I don’t know what it was but I was hooked from start to finish and can’t wait for the second. I’m sold – absolutely sold. Shame you didn’t love it more – I think I was clearly in the right frame of mind to be wowed – which sometimes really does happen.
    I liked your point about the slavery aspect – I think that could have gone a lot deeper.
    Did you ever read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – that was a really gripping story set in the deep south with slavery at it’s core – it’s a really shocking tale (based partly on real events/characters).
    Lynn 😀

    • Typically I’m all over a book with cheesiness, but for some reason it didn’t work for me as well this time around. I did like it though, and I’m definitely going to be reading the sequel. I have a feeling that I’ll like the second book more, especially if the romance between Fallon and a certain someone has more development to it.

      I haven’t read The Invention of Wings, but now I clearly need to! It sounds absolutely incredible. And I did love The Secret Life of Bees when I read it a few years ago, too.

  • Cheesy Romance, is definitely a turn off for me. But this is giving me some Nevernight vibes with the training scenes mentioned! My interest is piqued!

    • I love a book with a few good training montages/scenes thrown in! Basically any sort of boarding school/training ground/magic academy setting will work for me. 🙂

  • Gosh! How long has it been since I’ve been able to comment on your blog!?!?!? Too long! As you know I’ve had tech problems but hopefully I’ll be back on top of things soon. I always love reading your reviews to make my TBR explode. 🙂

    This one is actually already on my TBR and I’m a little sad that it didn’t get an even HIGHER rating. But… Hopefully I’ll still enjoy it a lot?

    I can see why the rating would have been brought down, especially where it seems that some of the big issues have been glossed over AND the cheesy moments. Maybe I won’t feel that way though??? I guess I’ll have to read it for myself!

    Thanks for another stunning review!