Female gladiators. Romance. Treachery. Honour. What more can you ask for in a YA fantasy novel based around Roman history? I admit it–– my expectations for The Valiant by Lesley Livingston were high. Very high. On the surface, it’s very, very easy to make comparisons to the famous and deeply loved film Gladiator. Even the text at the back is similar: Princess. Captive. Gladiator. But even with those comparisons, I stand by my opinion that this is one of the best YA fantasy books of the year. I loved it. Were there things I could predict? Yes. Did they lessen the impact of the story? Not at all. I’ve read Livingston’s work before and all I could think when I finished The Valiant was: I need the next book yesterday. It was so damn good! Thrilling, powerful, emotional, gritty, filled with tension and sprinkles of wonderful romance, and I couldn’t get enough. If you liked Gladiator, but wonder what it would be like with a fierce young woman rather than a grizzled older man, this is the book for you.
The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha’s legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle.
On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father’s royal war band. But she never gets the chance. Instead, Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon’s worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival.
Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena—and claim her place in history among the Valiant.
I can’t get over how awesome this book was. Seriously, I expected it to be good, but it totally blew my mind. I was completely immersed right from the start by the historic world-building and enthralling characters. I loved the action, the story, the suspense, the romance, the twists I didn’t see coming (and even the ones I did). While this could be considered a “toned down” version of gladiatorial lore, that didn’t keep it from being a wild adventure filled with peril and danger for our heroes. Nothing was ever black and white and there were plenty of betrayals and second guesses that led characters into dangerous situations.
Fallon is without question one of my favourite female heroes in YA fiction. She has her flaws, yes, often putting her honour before her sense and at times coming off as selfish, but more than that, she’s strong, smart, brave, determined and crushingly honourable. Her flaws make her a real, vulnerable character and she was one of the two heroes I loved. That second honour went to Caius. I won’t say much by way of spoilers, but suffice it to say if I don’t get more of him in the next book, there will be many fangirl tears.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It was utterly fantastic and is just what any YA fan needs on their shelf. You can’t go wrong with feisty female gladiators!