Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
To put it succinctly, Valour is hands down, the best fantasy I have read in an age. I thought Providence of Fire might have claimed it, but Valour came swooping in and stole the title.
Getting to the grit, Gwynne really has settled into his own stride with Valour. I mentioned previously that Malice tended to slip into the tested and true fantasy genre stereotypes, but Valour actually revamps them. Grabs them, shakes them vigorously and then chucks them in all trembling and ruffled. So I was skipping in comfortable shoes again, but also running out cartwheels with unabashed glee! I can't begin to iterate how joyful a well plotted storyline like Valour makes me.
The actual crafting of the scenes was also much tighter, there was no flimsy wording or silent holes, just really well woven together phrasing and pacing. The flow was gorgeous, I have read some really rushed adventure series lately, but the timing in Valour was superb. It takes the time to let you get to know the characters, care, grieve, feel the doubt, pain and fear, see them blush! It didn't feel like the action was forced to 3 octaves of hysteria simply to create a plot line, it was just a natural consequence, it stemmed from the characters, not the other way around. It really did feel as though the plot was created around the characters for a change, they manipulated it, they were the central theme, they weren't just the side product of battle scenes. I think that's probably what has made my affection for the book so strong.
And, it is so incredibly refreshing to see such well built characters that aren't paper thin, hop off points to the next confrontation. Sometimes just sitting down and listening in to their thoughts and conversations held much more weight than the warring going on around them. There are some beautifully rendered female characters as well, which is a rarity. There seems to be a trend in relegating a strong female as 'the schemer' these days, intelligence equalling grand machinations, but Gwynne has actually been able to write a whole range of *gasp* different strong female characters, with different personality traits and motivations! Miracles upon miracles!
Marquis, a new secondary POV, thundered off the page. Talk bout dragging a character through the shit, but written with so much damn grace! He was definitely a stand out this time around. Could you give him a tiny bit of joy Mr Gwynne? I kind of feel sorry for the bloke!
Unfortunately, I think Veradis' POV has weakened, you can only push that 'loyal doubter' case so far before the book slapping becomes violent. I definitely think we need Nathair as a POV now, it's become time to find out where his head is at and in turn, Veradis may come back to life with some force. He needs a kick in the arse promptly, or he will become irrelevant with all of the other characters having such a force of will behind them.
Saying all that, I think the world building may have suffered slightly due to the book being so character-centric. It's still well done, but it seems to play second fiddle. I never really get a sense of the space for some reason. I keep slipping back into thinking that I'm in a tale of the Mabinogi (a Welsh oral folklore, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr in particular) rather than it's own unique world and I am not sure whether that's what Gwynne is trying to achieve? It'd be interesting to find out whether it's been used as an influence.. I digress!
Another thing I find intriguing is the magic! It's such a struggle for the main characters! It's weak and unwieldy, and nobody actually knows how to use it properly. I am so used to it being flung around like a sword alternative, that seeing it being cultivated piece by piece is amazing. Never had the need to comment on 'magic creation' before! I am really interested to see where it ends up and how it in turn affects the world if it gets fully unleashed. I guess Corban will probably become some sort of powerful mage, but how will it affect him? He has been given some pretty heavy tasks, but I think, for some reason, magic will be one of the heaviest burdens. Pure speculation, but I'd like to see some sort of consequence for bringing that sort of power into the world of men.
My biggest problem is that I already gave Malice a 5 star rating, and now with Valour stepping it up a notch, I can't give an accurate appraisal to what I think may be becoming one of my all time favourite fantasy series. I don't take those words lightly! I am too frivolous a reader to make lists, but if I were to make one...
Read it if all the above makes you a happy little Vegemite! I'd probably class it with early Eddings, Gemmell and Goodkind, but with more maturity, stronger characters.. And more Omph! (technical term).
Hardcopy Worthy? Already shipped my friend, already shipped!