Book Review: Valour – John Gwynne

My rating: 5 dragons

Overview

Back in August, I read the first book in John Gwynne’s “The Faithful and the Fallen” epic fantasy series, Malice. You can read my review of that here. (I rated it four dragons out of five).

Despite a few cons, I still really enjoyed the book, and what had been set out for this incredible series. I was also buddy reading it (which always adds to the fun), and as I’d bought all four books in the series (Malice, Valour, Ruin, Wrath), I definitely wanted to continue with book two. Unfortunately I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like (also distractions…) so I worked my way through this very slowly. But oh my goodness, what a fantastic book. I enjoyed Malice. Really enjoyed it. But Valour took everything that was good in Malice and elevated it to new heights!

It’s not perfect. There are the same issues with too much fighting, too many “throwaway” characters, forced romance (missing from Malice), and predictability. But it’s SUCH a fun read. Also the things I dislike (romance, for example, in any form, but much less when it’s predictable) are down to personal taste. Other readers may well enjoy these elements of an otherwise very dark, brutal story, so please don’t be put off this book or series by my thoughts.

The final quarter was so fantastic, I could hardly put it down. Indeed when I did put it down, I found myself thinking of events and characters. That’s the mark of an excellent book, in my opinion! Valour returns to some of the key characters in Malice – we have Corban, Cywen, Gar, Veradis, Nathair – but also a handful of new characters come to the fore as key players in this God-War unfolding across Gwynne’s Banished Lands. Admittedly, a number of them were side characters in Malice, but never had the chance to make more than a handful of appearances (they are sharing the stage with a VAST cast, after all), Fidele, Maquin, and Lykos spring to mind, and others are brand new (Fech and Tukul are definitely favourites), but this time it feels better paced. Or it could simply be that I’m familiar with these characters so it’s not quite so overwhelming.

Either way, by the time I reached the last quarter – even the last third – I was fully invested. For me, Valour started slow and slowly but surely built momentum and tension throughout. The second half was excellent, with the slow pace gone and events spiralling out at breakneck speed. Unfortunately there weren’t any major plot twists or character betrayals that I didn’t predict (or at least have the thought of “they’re up to something”) which stole a little joy from me, but overall the second book in this series was fantastic. As soon as I finished, I immediately wanted to start on Ruin.

 

 

Things I loved

In my review of Malice, I mentioned a number of POV characters who resonated with me, and this is again a strength of Valour. We have more characters to play with this time, too! Veradis and Camlin are right up there (although I do want to slap Veradis pretty hard), along with Brina and her crow, Craf. Fech, the raven, was a great addition. Meical and Tukul I loved (I wish we’d seen some more of Gar), and my heart went out to Fidele. Maquin’s story arc was also wonderful to read (if incredibly dark) – in fact, most of the POV characters I felt had real weight to their arcs and I felt invested in each of them – something I found was missing with a few of them in Malice.

One of the familiar tropes of epic fantasy is an orphaned protagonist – but in Valour, our main guy, Corban, has a number of people with him from his home town. I kept expecting people to die or disappear, for Corban to suddenly be alone, but that never happened. While I was kept on the edge of my seat, expecting an unexpected and gruesome death, it was lovely to enjoy Corban being surrounded by friends and family. Corban himself is also MUCH more likeable in Valour. I disliked him for about 80% of Malice, but the events of the first and second books have definitely pushed him to growing up a bit, which has helped.

Un-put-down-able. The pacing overall was much better in Valour, particularly from about halfway on. Gwynne is a master of drawing a number of widely spread plot threads and crossing them, tying some up neatly, and severing others. It felt very well-done and the tension was incredible. I’ve learned to loathe some characters (Lykos and Rhin) and love others. It feels like most characters are getting some real development, are growing and changing, and making believable decisions. There were some very poignant moments, some deaths, some acts of bravery or courage, that I absolutely loved. The enjoyment of Valour is much greater than Malice, and that has pushed Valour up to a five star/dragon read for me!

 

Things I didn’t like

Romance. Or shipping. Whatever you wanted to call it. As soon as it cropped up, it was obvious. While there’s no real “insta-love” here (another pet hate), it felt predictable and forced. It was a case of, “oh, so-and-so likes so-and-so now,” and invariably a little while later, the other person began to like the first one. I’m not a fan of romance, it always feels forced and unbelievable to me, but perhaps I’m just a grumpy woman and nothing will ever please me as far as romance is concerned. So this is a very personal thing I didn’t like.

Fighting. This is a book about a God-War. There are armies and mercenaries and people getting into individual scraps left right and centre. From fighting pits to duels to all-out armies marching on each other, this book is full of fighting. I felt there was a shade too much of it in Malice, and I feel the same way about Valour. While there was plenty of variance in Valour, it still boiled down to people killing other people, decapitating people, ramming a sword in someone’s gut or back or chest. After a while, my eyes glazed. Again, I appreciate and understand the importance of it, but again, it’s a personal dislike. It didn’t detract enough to remove a star/dragon, and I felt overall they were better written than in Malice.

Predictability. This is an epic fantasy with prophecies. When you work out / are told what certain lines mean, you then look for these events in the plot. With certain character names, it can sometimes be a little too easy to piece together what’s coming next. It makes potential twists and revelations less of a surprise, and therefore less enjoyable. There was nothing that happened in Valour that I couldn’t tell was going to happen, although sometimes the “getting there” was not easy to predict. A small thing to note as I’m being critical.

 

Final thoughts

This is a solid series. I wish there was more magic (we were introduced to glamour and earth power in Malice, but there wasn’t quite as much of it in Valour), and less fighting, but they’er very minor gripes that don’t detract from the overall reading experience. I was thoroughly enraptured and entertained, and towards the end, I was annoyed when I had to put it down and do something else – like eating or sleeping. A fabulous read that improves on book one. I cannot wait to see what books three and four are like!

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