May 04, 2017

The Valiant

Written by Lesley Livingston
HarperCollins
978-1-44344-628-0
372 pp.
Ages 13+
February 2017

It  should have been an auspicious day for Fallon, youngest daughter of the Celtic kind Virico, chief of the Cantii tribe of Prydain.  She was turning seventeen and becoming old enough to become a member of her father’s royal war band. Moreover, Maelgwyn Ironhand, her fighting partner and best friend, had pledged his love to her.  But some backroom dealings and a murder send Fallon in pursuit of vengeance and sadly captured by slave traders and on her way to Rome, the city of their enemy and the killers of her much-revered older sister Sorcha.

The slave master Charon takes a surprising interest in Fallon and, after the ship they take across the Mare Nostrum is beset by pirates and Fallon fights alongside the legionnaires sent to escort the cargo, she also becomes the interest of Decurion Caius Varro.  This is especially so after Fallon and Elka, a girl of the Vaini tribe of the north, are sold as a pair to the Ludus Achillea, an academy for female gladiators, lead by the Lady Achillea.  There she is advised to “Kill your past and bury it deep in the earth of your heart” (pg. 135).  But the past keeps rearing its ugly head, bringing those she thought long gone into her present, and demanding her attention if she is to surmount them and become valiant in the future.

From a heart-pounding chariot manoeuvre to the murder of her beloved Mael to the arenas of the Rome and the appalling trafficking of humans as  chattel, The Valiant plunges readers into other worlds in time and space and mood.  The Valiant, like life for Fallon and her compatriots, is not for the faint of heart.  There is a brutality and ruthlessness necessary for their survival that must be balanced against the hedonism of those in power.  But Lesley Livingston focuses on the women as strong  and shrewd, with most finding a way to accept their fates and make them work for them.  There’s Elka who acknowledges to Fallon that with war and with life
There is only forward. Only tomorrow. No yesterday, no going back.  And nothing of value is left behind, so nothing is truly lost.” (pg. 73)
And there’s Kassandra, a fellow slave girl, who gives Fallon her sandals when an accident permits potential escape.
This was a girl who would choose to stay chained if it meant that her odds of survival were even so much as a hairsbreadth better.  And there was strength in that choice–the sheer, bloody-minded will to survive no matter how dreadful the circumstance.  Maybe honor wasn’t always something won by a blade, I thought.  And maybe it couldn’t be so easily stripped away, even in servitude.” (pg. 67)
Like all Lesley Livingston’s YA fantasy including her Wondrous Strange and Once Every Never series, The Valiant is an epic read of another world–here historically-based–offering a story of a gladiatrix that might or might not have been possible.  In fact, Lesley Livingston’s afterword discusses the known history of gladiatrices (plural of gladiatrix) and her own creation of “the realm of “what-if” where fantasy meets history.” (pg. 375)  With The ValiantLesley Livingston, in her impressively-evocative writing, gives readers a front seat in the arena, glory and guts and even a love story included in the price of admission.

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