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Book Review: Valor by John Gwynne

Title: Valor

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Faithful and the Fallen #2

Genre: Fantasy

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

The Review:

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.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

Title: Shadow of the Gods

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Bloodsworn Saga #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið. Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out. Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . . –Goodreads

The Review:

Even though Shadow of the Gods came highly praised, I went in really apprehensive. To start with, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for a Norse-inspired indigenous story even if it did promise a little magic. I’m also skeptical anytime something gets as much hype as this book has. But color me surprised:

The book was every bit as good as people say it is.

It’s a slow burn, but one that had me engaged from the beginning. Gwynne is such a thoughtful writer. He has all of these cool story ideas (many things I’ve never seen done well before) but instead of hitting you over the head with endless explanations, he lets you experience them naturally, revealing information in careful increments every few chapters that continually nurtured my investment in the story throughout the entire thing. It was brilliantly done. And I can’t wait to see where all of those careful reveals will take me in the next book.

The story bounced pretty evenly between three POVs. Two I liked right out of the gate, the other one took me until halfway through the book before I was fully invested. These were great characters to follow. Perhaps on the extreme ends of human behavior based on the harsh circumstances of the book, but more or less relatable in their earnest humanity. I especially loved the female characters and more and more appreciate Gwynne for how he writes them. Being a strong female in a fantasy series is not something that has to be highlighted as remarkable or unusual in this series. They’re just unapologetically badass and I loved it. It’s awesome to see intelligent characters who can think through situations, but are still flawed and prone to mistakes. It’s a hard balance to strike, but Gwynne managed well.

The world-building in this book was unlike anything I’ve read before. It was so subtle, almost on the periphery of the story, yet at the same time completely integral to the plot. Even though I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to in this first book, I can see how solid the baseline is for everything – Gwynne has my complete trust to deliver on all these cool ideas in future books.

The only thing I have to note is the pacing. I remember thinking around the halfway point that it’s a good thing I’m heavily invested in the characters and the plot because things are sooo slow right now. Then on the flip side, because the story bounces between the three POVs, when things started careening at the end, it was an oddly disjointed feeling to bounce between stories climaxing at different rates (there’s a joke in there somewhere), so the momentum of the book as a whole was a bit off for me. But that’s a minor complaint for sure.

Recommendations: this is an awesome slow-burn, character-driven fantasy. I loved everything from the flowing writing to the careful plot construction to the great characters to the subtle yet powerful world-building (it’s a square of appreciation). The book worked for my on every account. It seems like those I’ve seen struggle with it had issues with the slow pacing which means they probably weren’t invested in the characters. So if you can find a connection early, you’ll probably love the book as much as I did.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Three Thursday [2]: Series I’m Keen to Start in 2018

Top Three Series I’m Keen to Start in 2018

This is a new feature hosted by Fantasy Buddy Reads over at Goodreads. Blog posts aren’t required to participate, but I thought it would be fun to compose one, anyway. :)


Admittedly, the series I’m most excited to start often changes from week to week, but luckily there have been a few I’ve been eager to get to for several months now:

Malice is the first in the Faithful and the Fallen fantasy series that several friends in my Fantasy Buddy Reads group are seriously losing their shit over. It’s evidently a slow burn, multiple POV series that sounds right up my alley. We have a buddy read for this starting in May.

Burn for Me is the first book in the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews and it seems to be getting the same amount of positive attention as her Kate Daniels series. As I am now a Kate Daniels super fan, I’m going to trust everybody who says to ignore the super ridiculous & cheesy covers and look forward to diving into more works by these brilliant authors.

Unclean Spirits is the first book of The Black Sun’s Daughter Series by MLN Hanover… A pen name for an author you may recognize as Daniel Abraham or one half of James S. A. Corey. Because I absolutely loved the Long Price Quartet and the Expanse series, respectively, I am hoping this urban fantasy will also knock my socks off. We have a buddy read for this one also starting in May. I can’t wait!

Honorable Mentions (meaning I’ve already started them this year): Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley & Malazan by Erikson/Esselmont


What series are you looking to start in 2018? :-)