‘Foe,’ Corban whispered in Storm’s ear and in a blur of fur and muscle she lept at the startled man.

AhhhhhhhhhhHhhhhhhhhhHhh! Does that count for a review? No? Okay, here we go.

Valor by John Gwynne is Book Two from The Faithful and the Fallen. It rates a 5/5 stars from me. The pacing was a bit slower the first half of the book than Malice but not enough to dock any stars. The second half of the book kept a rollicking pace and I couldn’t read it fast enough.

The Faithful and the Fallen is one of those series that reminds me of WHY I fell in love with the fantasy genre. Fantasy readers tend to love the plot building up to a resounding crescendo that crashes over us, fully encompassing. We love worlds that need steady building, characters that reveal their complexities over time. We like stories that need multiple volumes to be told. We like taking characteristics from the real world and mixing them with the endless possibilities of fantastical storytelling. John Gwynne’s series is all that I love about fantasy. I’ve said before that I immediately include him in the ranks of my favorite authors, and like those authors (Hobb, Martin, Rothfuss, Lawrence, Sanderson, Abercrombie), Gwynne has all the elements we love about fantasy but it still reads like his OWN work and ideas. It stands apart even in its similarities to other fantasy series.

Yet, if he has chosen right, why did he feel wrong, somehow, somewhere deep down, and why when he closed his eyes, did he see (name hidden for spoiler free review)’s face, his dead eyes accusing him.

In Valor, we have the usual good vs bad dilemma. We also have the bad-that-truly-thinks-it’s-good vs the good. We have purposely misled characters. Accidentally misguided characters. Betrayed characters. Straight up good or evil characters. Characters that have no choice, that despise themselves for their actions. I think what is interesting about this story is we have two characters that have been told THEY’RE the chosen savior of the world. There can only be one, though, so what happens to the person that was actually chosen for evil instead of good? How do they react to that? This book is about that journey, about the build up to that shattering realization. There are characters are in league with the obviously “evil” side that I have truly come to care for. That’s what a good author does. In life, we can find good and bad in (almost) everyone. The scale might tip us one way or the other, but most people have goodness in them if you look. This goodness makes it hard for us to write a character off completely. It gives us hope for a better outcome.

‘Before the battle you warned us about what side we were choosing.’

‘Yes,’ Veradis said. ‘I did.’

‘I would give you the same advice,’ Maquin said, then disappeared into the forest.

One thing I would like to praise Gwynne for, is his writing of women. There’s some subtle attraction, occasionally, between characters, but it’s never unintentionally sexist or inappropriate. Rather, it’s a natural progression of potential relationships. What do I mean by this? Women in his stories are strong. They’re purposeful. They’re not there for the amusement of men or for men to look at. They serve the plots, and are not background characters. Gwynne doesn’t focus on their looks above all, in fact, he rarely comments on their looks. There is ONE case of intentional harassment that might be triggering to some and that is used to advance the plot to some degree. It incites hatred and the motivation to break control from a certain leader. You might think this is all odd to mention, like, “Oh, John Gwynne DOESN’T sexualize women?? Cool?” But it IS worth mentioning that Gwynne writes women like a respected WOMAN author would (thus far, at least). I’ve seen some women authors write women characters pretty shamefully as well, which may be a conditioned behavior, and I think in recent years, the public has grown more conscience of the way women are written. I certainly have. I recently read a male-written fantasy series that put a bad taste in my mouth when it came to how it approached writing women, despite liking the series otherwise. The worst part is that I don’t think the author even realizes he was being sexist *cringe*. It might just be me following up that series with this one that makes me appreciate Gwynne’s writing. He writes like he respects PEOPLE, it isn’t some facade, it isn’t forced. It’s natural, as it should be.

‘All right,’ she muttered. ‘I can always kill you another time.’

‘It’s only because I’m too tired to bury your corpse,’ she said as she strode up to him.

He took a step back and placed a hand protectively over his groin. ‘Not too close,’ he said. ‘I saw what you did to Helfach’s boy in the hall the other day. Me, I’m very fond of my stones.’

Do I want to spoil this whole book and tell you all of the parts I loved? Yes. Will I do that? I GUESS not. I will tell you that there’s loss. There’s adventure. There’s battles. There’s scheming. And most importantly, there’s HEART. This story has a lot of it. I love these characters more than ever. I love the respect for animals in this story. I love that through the tragedy, there are moments of beauty. The good fight and sometimes the bad win, but the good never give up. They don’t take the easy path. It imitates what I most admire about people in modern times. A lot of us feel like the world has gone to SHIT, but it gives us more motivation to fight for what we believe is right. It’s perfect.

Such friends. Following me through the mountains… Just looking at this, he felt pressure building in his chest. This world may be full of greed and tragedy and darkness, but I am fortunate beyond measure to have such people about me.

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