Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.
Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.
Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.
Thank you Penguin for the review copy!
This book was like a gladiator’s war cry: brash, bold, and brilliant. Within less than 300 pages, readers go on a tantalizing adventure in Roman history full of sisterhood, action, betrayal, and romance. Fallon’s irresistible character made The Valiant extremely hard to put down. Although her progression from prejudiced princess to dangerous gladiator is the focal point of the book, the friendships and lessons she learned on the journey is something not to be missed.
“‘Are you a weapon or target?’ Sorcha had asked. ‘Choose, Fallon!’”
Readers start at a quick pace from the very first chapter, where betrayal, romances, kidnapping, and the yearning to be strong are already introduced. The book goes through months in a paragraph, and yet despite that, you can’t help but still be on the edge of your seats while waiting for Fallon’s fate after she becomes kidnapped by slave traders. Originally a Celtic princess, Fallon gets sold to the Ludus Achillea and starts her life as a female gladiator, to battle in the pits of Rome – a nation she could never support because of their invasion over her nation’s territory and the cause of her dear sister’s death. The inclusion of history is quite subtle and never drags the plot down. I had a great time learning the political nuances of the world and overall the setting was very easy to build in my head.
‘“Let me give you a piece of advice,’ she murmured. ‘Rome only exists because of slaves. That’s how it functions. We are its muscles, its brains, and most of all its secrets. You are now a part of that world. You are what you are, no matter what you once were. But there is power in such a position. Understand that. And learn to use it.’”
At first, Fallon carries a hole in her heart because of the absence of her sister Sorcha, who was killed by the Romans when she went to retrieve their kidnapped father. Fallon thus places great value in strength and power, which she repeatedly demonstrates throughout the book. What better way to hone her skills than the win and win and WIN in a gladiator battle? While Fallon makes mistakes in the beginning, she slowly develops into an adversary that one really has to look out for. Staying in Rome gives Fallon a new perspective of things as well. Her feelings for Julius Caesar, the emperor, stay conflicted as she fights for him in the pits yet against him in ideology. Nonetheless, Fallon starts warming up to the thought of being in Rome rather than her homeland – especially with the help of the friends she makes.
The very first thing I have to mention is the emphasis on sisterhood and female empowerment over a social structure that is rampant with the chase of money. Though Fallon may be a slave, she soon learns that slaves have their own subtle power as well. In Rome, she makes both enemies and allies as she navigates gladiator battles. I really enjoyed the spunky dialogue throughout it all. Livingston never wastes a line, and you either want to smile hard at the characters’ antics or bite your nails in anticipation for what would happen next.
“‘This oath is the oath we all swear. Not to a god, or a master, or even to the Ludus Achillea… but to our sisters who stand here with us. Our sisters.’”
The romance is definitely the type to be in the back seat with everything else going on. There’s a hint of forbidden air in it, as Fallon is a fighting slave while Cai is a Roman senator’s son, marking a social status contrast within their ranks. Yet despite that, Cai is instantly drawn to Fallon’s fighting spirit and tenacity. There are sweet (and sometimes steamy), stolen moments between the two of them and solid, steady progression with their relationship. Their sizzling hot chemistry matched the sizzling dynamics and sparks that fly when they battle as well.
One of the focal points of this book is Fallon’s character development. She goes from princess to slave to champion, and throughout it all questions herself repeatedly. Does honor matter when not having any is what wins the battle? Is it possible to fight for an emperor that pretty much ruined her previous life? Can she forgive certain people and betrayals in her life? Despite these doubts, Fallon stays true to her resilient character while learning all the while.
“They thought they could frighten me with pictures painted in tar upon my walls? The pictures I drew would be in the sands of the arena, rendered in my rivals’ blood. And the letters I carved with my sword? They would spell out Victory.”
Honestly, this book had it all and the only complaint I have is that I want more. The open yet extremely satisfying ending was definitely a great place to end it though, and I read this basically in one sitting. I just wanted more sisterhood, more romance, more battles… but if you’re a fan of these things – as well as amazing character development that continues from the start to finish of the book – then The Valiant is not one to miss.
I would definitely recommend this to fantasy fans looking for a bloodthirsty battle, sizzling romance, and well-developed friend/sister relationships. Other books that carry a similar fight-for-survival, immense character development vein and social structure contrast include Court of Fives by Kate Elliot and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. The exploration of honor and survival in Ancient Rome is thoroughly examined through the Fallon’s princess-to-slave perspective, as well as loyalties and romances being tested. Ultimately, you get a book that balances several topics very well (albeit with less pages than I would have liked) and, despite the time jumps, continues at a quick pace. Fallon’s journey in Rome, accurately summed up with ”Veni, vidi, vici” is the kind of conquest that this book will have for readers looking for kickass action in a tantalizing historical setting.