By Lesley Livingston
Format: Print ARC
To Sum It Up: Fallon is a Celtic princess, a proud warrior hoping to join her father’s war band to fight for her tribe. Her father, however, has a different plan for her, and his decision sets into motion a chain of events that ultimately leads to Fallon’s capture by a slave trader. She’s taken to Rome, where she’s sold to the Lady Achillea, who runs a training academy for female gladiators that is owned by Julius Caesar. Trapped within the very heart of enemy land, Fallon must find a way to prove herself in the arena.
Review: When I read the synopsis for The Valiant, images of ancient Rome, Celtic folklore, and fierce female gladiators kicking ass all immediately sprang to mind. While all of these are present to some degree in the book, I found the resulting combination to be a rather mixed reading experience.
The Valiant is really more historical fiction than fantasy with its mostly Roman Empire setting and appearances by both Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. I did not, however, feel fully transported back to that time. The world-building needed more than references to chariots and the occasional Latin word. One of the greatest eras in history just didn’t seem alive.
At first I was very excited to discover that our heroine Fallon was the daughter of a Celtic king because—warrior princess! I’m also very intrigued by all things Celtic: history, music, knitting patterns. As with the thinly detailed Rome, though, the book didn’t really capture much about the Celts during this period, either. Where the novel spends most of its time is setting up Fallon’s entry into the world of professional gladiatrixing. And it is a looong while before she ever sets her sandal in the arena. I wasn’t expecting this because the book got off to a frenetic start, with the complete upheaval of Fallon’s life in a matter of a few chapters. The plot then loses its urgency as we wait for Fallon first to reach Rome and then for any action to happen. For a novel about female gladiators, there’s more talk about competing than there are actual competitions.
I also wasn’t too impressed with Fallon’s character arc. Despite her believing the opposite, everything just seems to fall into place for her. Except for some mean girls at the gladiatrix academy, everyone instantly sees how extraordinary Fallon is, including Caius Varro, a Roman soldier who insta-falls for her. They go from using his formal title to, “Just call me Cai” in a nanosecond. There’s no buildup to the romance, and since I like my romances to simmer for a while first, this one didn’t do much for me.
The Valiant turned out to be very different from what I’d anticipated going in. After the opening chapters, the pacing slowed down considerably and never really regained its momentum. I’d also thought this would be action-packed with epic gladiatrix matches, but that wasn’t quite what this book delivered, either. The insta-love also made this kind of tough for me to see through to the end, but I got so far in that finishing the book made more sense than DNF’ing it. This isn’t a series I’ll be continuing with, though.
All in All: For me, The Valiant fell short of the potential its premise held. I’d hoped this would be the book to pull me out of my reading slump, but alas, it was not.