Author: John Gwynne
Series: Faithful and the Fallen #2
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Overview: The Banished Lands is torn by war as High King Nathair sweeps the land challenging all who oppose him in his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of Cambren, there are few who can stand against them. But Rhin is playing her own games and has her eyes on a far greater prize… Left for dead, her kin fled and her country overrun with enemies, Cywen has no choice but to try to survive. But any chance of escape is futile once Nathair and his disquieting advisor Calidus realise who she is. They have no intention of letting such a prize from their grasp. For she may be their greatest chance at killing the biggest threat to their power. Meanwhile, the young warrior Corban flees from his conquered homeland with his exiled companions heading for the only place that may offer them sanctuary – Domhain. But to get there they must travel through Cambren avoiding warbands, giants and the vicious wolven of the mountains. And all the while Corban must battle to become the man that everyone believes him to be – the Bright Star and saviour of the Banished Lands. And in the Otherworld dark forces scheme to bring a host of the Fallen into the world of flesh to end the war with the Faithful, once and for all. -Goodreads
I continue to see why this series has gained so much momentum in the SFF community. Valor was a solid installment.
What’s remarkable is that this chonker of a book manages to be both a slow-burn expansive story and a fast-paced page-turner at the same time. The overall arc of the story is a gradual build, and actually this sequel didn’t do a whole lot to advance the plot. But within each POV (there are about ten) chapter, the author takes care to make sure each passage has a significant change in status quo before each switch. And all within relatively short chapters to boot! That’s hard to do. It’s part of the reason I’ve come to love Gwynne as very concise and deliberate writer. And it’s also why I deem this classic-feel fantasy as a totally engrossing story. The composition here is incredible, easily one of the most well-done I’ve read.
One of my favorite things about the story is the wide array of compelling characters. With ten POVs it’s probable that you’re not going to like some as much as others, but with the exception of a single one, I found myself completely invested in everyone.
Bouncing around so much can also negatively affect the momentum of a story, but the placement of each switch was so good, sometimes the passages played off of each other and actually enhanced the momentum.
I also love the unexpected quality of Gwynne’s writing. Every time I think I’ve got the trajectory figured out, he switches things up (for the better). I loved the direction some of the POVs took in Valor. This also goes along with those high-stakes elements mentioned in my review of the first book. Most novels with this type of classical feel play at “dangerous” worlds full of peril, but this is one of the few that actually makes me feel any sort of stress for the characters. No one is safe, and I lovelovelove that aspect as much as I hate losing characters.
Recommendations: if you like classic fantasy but can also appreciate a more of a modern writing style, this is my top pick for you. Heck, even if you don’t like classic fantasy but just want a great story, this will win you over with its thoughtful pacing, great characters, and fun (gut-wrenching) story.
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