My heart is in a state of turmoil. Seriously, I’m not kidding. Why you might ask? Because I just finished Lesley Livingston’s new trilling historical fiction novel The Valiant. This is a first book in what I believe is going to be a duology about female gladiators. The second book has not yet been released, but I believe it will be titled The Defiant, and will be published at a date to be confirmed in 2018.
In school, classical studies was by far my favourite subject. So whenever I can, I try to read books about the Greek and Roman civilisations. I find them so fascinating and the fact that people are recently discovering proof that female gladiators were a thing in ancient Rome, I think this book is coming at the perfect time.
I quite liked the fact of the Goddess Morrighan being a constant for Fallon, I think a lot of people mistook this for a ‘fantasy’ element to the book, but I would have to argue that I don’t think that this is a fantasy book at all, rather a historical fiction. Gods and Goddesses were prevalent in Greek, Roman, and indeed Celtic society so there is nothing supernatural about Fallon praying to her Goddess.
This is my first book review on this blog so do let me know if you like the layout I’m choosing, and whether you would like spoiler or spoiler-free reviews in the future. And without further ado, let’s just get into it.
I went into this book knowing nothing really of substance about the plot. All I knew was that it followed a character named Fallon who was a Celtic Warrior and who eventually became a Roman Gladiator. So I didn’t really have any expectations about the plot. To be completely honest I didn’t love the beginning. I didn’t particularly care for the characters surrounding Fallon and I didn’t like the first plot twist that we see at the beginning of the book. However this changed fairly quickly as we begin Fallon’s journey to Rome. While some of the plot was predictable in my opinion, regarding Decurrion Caius Varro and Sorcha of the Cantii, I still thought the plot was interesting to read about, and liked that it was quite accurate to the Roman atmosphere and historic fact. The author definitely did her research. As the plot quickened, I found myself completely enthralled about a third of the way into the book. This is when the story really begins in my opinion, and it is thoroughly enjoyable until the very end.
Something I quite liked was how the school of gladiatrices was called Achillea, which is obviously an ode to the Greek warrior Achilles. I thought that was a nice reference to a hero who was not of the Roman empire, as most of the gladiatrices are not from Rome or the Empire.
The Valient is run and based off of strong female characters. The strongest of which in my opinion are the two Cantii princesses, Fallon and Sorcha, and the Varini warrior girl Elka. These three women are incredibly strong and what I love most about them, is that they have a strong sense of ‘sisterhood’. There is no sense of cattiness or bitchiness in these characters, even though they all got off to a bit of a rough start.
The male characters were slightly underdeveloped in my opinion, and a bit two dimensional. I really found the character of Aedden/Mandobracius to be completely redundant after the first few chapters. I did like both Caius and Charon, but I would’ve liked it more if they were slightly more developed with more rounded personalities. Both were very Roman in two very different ways, but I would’ve liked to see some more of the man behind the Roman regime. Does that make sense? I feel like they were written as stereotypical Roman men.
I loved all the interactions between all the girls in the Ludus Achillea. It was realistic in the sense of competition between the gladiatrices while also displaying a relationship of comaraderie between them. And the rivalry that I found the most interesting was that of Julius Caesar and Pontius Aquila. I really hope it’s explored in more detail in The Defiant.
I didn’t love Lesley’s writing style to begin with. It was quite simplistic, and I would’ve liked some more world building, both in Rome and in Prydain. I preferred her writing towards the end of the book where most of the action happened, but I would have liked some more description at the beginning.
The pacing of this book wasn’t very consistent; I found it to be very fluctuating. The beginning of the book was slow enough, then suddenly something major happens and you are caught a bit by surprise. I think there should’ve been more of a build up. Then it slows down again and remains at a slow pace until the last ten or so chapters. The end was incredibly quick and I found it hard to settle into the book because of this pacing.
I really enjoyed this book, further to which I think it would make a great book-to-movie adaptation. Usually I want my favourite books to be turned into TV shows but this is one that I think would translate really well to film. It was really entertaining and I loved the story. I’m very excited to read the next book. The enjoyment factor of this book bumped up the rating a lot.
Overall I quite liked this book and gave it a 4* rating on Goodreads. Have you read The Valiant? What are you currently reading? Let me know in the comments below! xx