Review: Valiant by Holly Black

I waited so long to read this book because I wanted to get a copy of Tithe first. I had read Ashkarya‘s copy last year and thought I needed to re-read it before Valiant. However, because I couldn’t quite bear to read Joe Hill right now and spoil my current mood for fairy tales, so I decided to read Valiant anyway, since it’s in my pool for the R.I.P. challenge. That way I get to read a fairy tale and finish my challenge. (I’ll still read the Joe Hill, but much later!)

A little background – Holly Black is one of the writers of the Spiderwick Chronicles, which are meant for younger readers. I haven’t read Spiderwick, and the first (and only, before this one) book I read by her was Tithe. It was a wonderful, dark story about fairies set in the modern world, and will completely change the minds of people who think of Tinkerbell when they think of fairies. It’s a story about Faerie the way they were (are) before Disney, Cicely Mary Barker, etc. came up with the sanitised versions.

I was surprised to find that it almost had nothing to do with Tithe, and could be read separately. Some of the history between what was going on between the Seelie and Unseelie court did happen in Tithe, but they are all explained by characters in Valiant, anyway. Roiben was the only character from Tithe that I remember who reappears in Valiant, and he was barely in it.

The protagonist in this book is Val, a lacrosse-playing tomboy who finds out that her mother has been sleeping with her boyfriend in the beginning of the book. Feeling betrayed by everyone around her, she ran away to New York city where she befriends three homeless kids. Lolli (short for Lollipop), Dave and Luis gives Val her first lessons in survival in the streets, and nicknames her Valiant. Then, thinking that she could handle the truth, they exposed her to the cruel world of Faerie. Lolli and Dave introduces Val to a Faerie drug they call Nevermore (shortened to “Never”) which gives them fairy-like powers. Luis, who has the Sight, has been doing deliveries for a hideous but honourable troll who lives under a bridge. Circumstances lead to Val serving for the same troll, but as her affection for Ravus grows, so does her (and her new friends’) addiction to Never. Valiant has a lot of fairy tale elements in it, the most obvious being Beauty and the Beast.

While it took me awhile to accept that the sequel to Tithe has nothing to do with Tithe, I enjoyed Valiant very much. It’s much darker than Tithe, and the closest book it reminds me of is probably Melissa Marr’s Ink Exchange. I love how Black deals with the themes of loyalty, betrayal, valour and addiction. While Marr’s Ink Exchange is probably better written and darker than Valiant, Black’s treatment of these themes are more believable and Black’s characters are definitely easier to sympathise with. Val visibly grows up during her adventures; she has learned a lot more than how to use a sword and how to get by. She learns to face her fears and troubles instead of running away, she learns to conquer her addiction, and most of all, she learns to live up to her nickname. By the end of the book I thought she has turned from an angsty teen to a knightly woman. Ravus the troll, who acts as her teacher and love interest in the story, is another fascinating character. His character makes me think about beauty – both the meaning of it, and its role in fairy tales. In classic fairy tales, beauty (and the lack of it) is used to describe the purity and goodness of a character. That is why the white knights are handsome princes, and the good girls “fair” maidens while their greedy sisters are always described as ugly. Trolls, hags, and evil witches are all hideous, while fairy godmothers, helpful fairies and good witches are beautiful. Having Ravus as the only character who is constantly honourable from the beginning to the end of the book, and Val, who is probably pretty but definitely not the conventional feminine beauty of fairy tales as the protagonist, questions our association of beauty with goodness.

Not all the characters lived up to their potential, though. Luis, who has true Sight and an aversion to fairies, could have had more depth, so his character is a bit of a disappointment. But since this is probably the only complaint I have, I would definitely recommend this book!

~ originally posted on blogspot


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