valour Hardcover – March 27, 2014
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About the Author
"Influenced by Gemmell's Rigante and George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones ... Hell of a debut."―Conn Iggulden
"Middle Earth-ish extravaganza with all the usual thrills, chills, spills and frills ... there's plenty of action."―Kirkus
"Three-dimensional characters, a gripping plot, and a world that became real to me ... this is the type of fantasy I love to read and I truly can't wait to read the next volume in The Faith and the Fallen!"―Fantasy Book Critic
"John Gwynne hits all the right spots in his epic tale of good vs evil . . . there's a lot of pleasure to be had in this debut novel; Gwynne is definitely one to watch."―SFX
"Warring clans, sleeping giants, Banished Lands and omens and portents ... a strong contender for 'if you like Game of Thrones, why not try this?' award."―Independent --This text refers to the paperback edition.
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There were several new characters introduced that quickly became integral to the story and quick favorites of mine. There were also characters that were secondary or lightly introduced in book one that became fully fleshed out in this book. Much like the first book, there were also characters who wont make to Ruin, book 3. To avoid any spoilers, I'll just leave it at that. John Gwynne really does a great job breathing life into his characters and making you root for them or hope they find the pointy end of a weapon soon.
The story moves along really well and I like the pacing of how big reveals were introduced and then handled by the characters. With as many characters as there are in this story, I think he does a good job with making sure all have arcs that are addressed. Some get more attention than others, of course, but none seemed to stay flat that were important to the story. I'm stopping my review here because I just finished Valor and I want to start reading Ruin right away. I've found this to be a fun and engaging series.
The march continues for conquering new territories and no king is safe. Even when the conquest is seemingly done, who will be the absolute victor?, as we have too many in pursuit of the ultimate crown.
This story also deals with revelations for many and discovering just who's side they're fighting for, but I'm still hoping for some to change sides in future books, but that doesn't always happen. This series has so many characters that are likable; primary, secondary, and even the bad guys have ones that are hopefully redeemable, but we see that no one's life is secure, making the experience unpredictable, right down to the nail biting moments.
Enough said, if you've started this series, then you've either finished it, or are reading it. If you haven't started it, now would be a good time.
Postscript: G I A N T S. And plenty of them. Smashing, stomping G I A N T S!
Top international reviews
Stylistically, everything is set up to hold that pace: short chapters, never wasting unnecessary time in a single POV, nearly always open with the character's name, placing the reader right at the forefront of the narrative. Broad strokes illustrate the backdrop, while familiar and repeated phrases give the fight scenes Homeric tones. Oh, and there's death, too. Lots of it. Nobody dies of old age in the Banished Lands, they all die with swords exploding through their bodies, ripping from shoulder to chest, or with limbs torn away in sprays of blood.
It's simply told, but not simplistic. Gwynne's flawed characters, those who have doubts about which side they are on, are still some of the most interesting - Veradis, Nathair, Camlin, the survival-forged Maquin. There's a great focus on friendship, teamwork, and honour. Malice suffered a little from a strange pacing between some POVs - months would pass in one chapter that split chapters from another POV covering only a week - and that hasn't changed much here, but the chapters fly past so quickly you hardly notice that.
If Ruin can keep up the pace, and add something fresh at the same time, then we're all set for what should be a real epic in Wrath.
This book picks up where the second book left off. We see the same bad of odd jobs that were brought together work to try and simply survive then eventually start seeing them fight back. We see the characters grow and develop and the multiple POV parts brought back. Thankfully the POV’s are mostly well done and thankfully we see the plot still move along with the POV, rather than show the same things from multiple POV’s.
As before in Malice, I genially liked the characters and became very much attached to most of them, the growth of them was amazing and there were plenty of heart wrenching when some of them fell. The neat touch about this series is we already know the good guys and bad guys mostly and the POV’s are written from both sides. This keeps things fresh and keeps you very much invested. Aside from the main Corban storyline we see some neat additional side stories which as standalone parts are great but more neatly will tie in down the line as the series goes on.
As ever the battles are absolutely brutal and David has a pretty neat talent of being able to write and flesh out details of both big and small battles alike. You very much can imagine your there sitting on the side-lines watching things pan out, great stuff.
This book does get slightly darker in nature which adds to the book rather than adding grimness for the sake of it. By adding this darker element we see characters needing to adapt and still fight while keeping their moral compass. The story also becomes more complex but unlike others, still understandable.
In all this book is 5 stars vs the 4 for Malice. For me it remedies some things by notching up the pace and keeping the tempo high, in part thanks to the fact the characters are already established. Now that is not to say it’s perfect and without flaws, but no book is perfect and this book and series as a whole has kept me engaged and on edge throughout. Great stuff.
John Gwynne does not do our main characters any favours. There was a death at the end of the first book that I honestly didn't think was a 'real' death but yeah it was. Very unexpected. And there are more in this book, some of whom I'd become very fond of. There are more female POV's in this book which is a good thing as the first book was very male dominated. Cywin was good in the first book but she really shone in this one, I think hers might have been my favourite one, a bit ahead of Corban and Maquin but not by too much. Corban does not get as much page time in this book but his is still probably the most common POV chapters and I really like where his character has gone. He's growing into himself and I like that it's taking time for him to adjust to what has happened and what is expected of him. All the other characters have progressed, except for maybe one, and we have a few more POV's than last time as I already mentioned. There are a few chapters from Nathair's mother, these get pretty brutal, and also from Coralen, Halion's half sister. There are also POV's from another giant and another warrior who I won't mention. My only small disappointment was Veralis. I loved his POV's in the first book, and still did here, I just felt his character hasn't progressed much and I'm still wondering when he is going to realise who's side he's actually on.
That's it about these books. There are prophecies about this god-war but they are already mostly revealed, I like that it hasn't been drawn out. The angels and demons are showing up more and the stakes really feel like they've escalated. There are a lot of battles in this book and use of the legionnaire type tactics by Nathair and Veralis compared to the Celtic warrior tactics are brutally shown and feels like the end of an era. The close bond between all the characters is both heart warming and heart breaking precisely because of how close they are it is even worse when something happens to them. As in the first review I mentioned it is a dark book, though not grim dark. Our heroes are proper heroes through all the things that happen to them. This is particularly relevant to Maquin's character, because he hits some lows before an almighty bittersweet high. You could see it coming but still, amazing.
Anyway this is shaping up to be one of the best series I've read in years and can't wait to start the third one.
(Review has some spoilers - look out for --!SPOILER!-- and skip that paragraph if you haven't read it yet!)
Corban is on the run with a mixed band of survivors, having just escaped a maelstrom of shocking betrayals and power plays at Dun Carreg, and begins to deal with a fate he can no longer hide from; Cywen lives life on the edge behind enemy lines, and relies on wit & luck to keep her head; Evnis is carried along by the plan he set in motion, and nervously tries not to get swept up by escalating events; Maquin is steadily being consumed by shame & a thirst for revenge, and battles to stop this taking control; Nathair proves a terrifying blend of zeal, ruthlessness and ignorance as he pushes forward with his misguided mission; Veradis finds his loyalty challenged by the company he keeps and the decisions he is forced to make; and we meet Coralen, a feisty soul searching for truth & meaning in her life… sounding good yet?
The big strengths of John Gwynne’s style are all here in full force - naturally evolving situations, conflicts and characters - all a real joy to read, and so fresh in the genre! The politicking and shifty motivations of the villains will keep you guessing, and the earnest underdog nature of the heroes keeps you firmly rooting for their self-discovery and resolve to do what is right against terrible odds.
I really enjoyed the filling out of his world in this novel, and was glad, (and perhaps guiltily pleased to see my prediction validated), that we see greater detail emerging on the side of the giants. The relationships and dynamics of that community were very well expressed, and as ever there is a good balance of mystery and revelation in character profiles & plot as the story progresses.
The conflict at the centre of the narrative expands very organically, and it is a very skilful example of how to get the reader to authentically experience the characters’ feelings: the rising sense of unease, of being caught up in events much larger than any would have guessed, and the gradual erosion of things that seemed solid and dependable. It’s brilliantly done step by step, and I prefer this approach to the sudden, climactic meteor-strike of a threat you often see in today’s narratives (especially in blockbuster movie scripts!)
You will stay hooked to the unfolding of the plot, waiting to see what happens when different parties collide and looking forward to seeing the consequences of big decisions made by the characters.
In short, really enjoyed this instalment and felt it was an appropriate mid-saga novel, with both a good cliff-hanger and genuine progress in the plot (unlike classic filler novels that don’t add anything to the overall story, and give false climaxes - e.g. some of the later novels in the Wheel of Time series).
Even though it’s a small part, Rath deserves a special mention. The build up to this character and his role in the story was fantastic, I loved hearing the giants talk about him and how they were so wary of his reputation. It was totally authentic and I couldn’t wait for him to turn up.
A couple of things that I wasn’t quite as keen on (feel like I have to do this, as the series deserves a proper review):
I can see how these sections are necessary to the plot and fill out the world, and they do provide a genuine source of threat and evil for the protagonists to fight against. However, I didn’t especially enjoy reading the chapters - the unpleasantness was a little off-tone for the rest of the novel, and the arcs were a bit too classic.
The fighting pits & control stone (think Aes Sedai collars or Harry Potter’s imperius curse) are well-trodden paths and it was clear which way things would go. It was the only part of the novel that felt a little contrived - wouldn’t be worth mentioning in a review for something else, but John Gwynne seems to me to be capable of more originality. Slavery with forced fighting & being made to aid the bad guys are devices for conflict, as it prevents characters from trying to make decisions - they are made for them. This is fairly clear by the resolution as the fighting pits are destroyed completely, Maquin escaping & proving himself still honourable, and the stone is destroyed so the queen can right the wrongs & now has a motive for action. I am definitely nit-picking here, as it all works and is told in a much more engaging and enjoyable way than many other examples, but I believe John Gwynne is capable of a lot more. (If you read this, John, sorry I’m being an idiot! You’ve raised my standards for the series!)
CORBAN & GWENITH (& Gar I suppose)
These characters are brilliant, and the author is excellent at making classic tropes stand out from the crowd & feel fresh and interesting again - so any comments here are again just because John Gwynne has set his own bar so high! I felt frustrated with all three characters for different reasons:
CORBAN never asks the one question that would be on the very tip of my tongue in this story (unless I missed it or am remembering it wrong): WHY is this happening to me? Why am I chosen? - I just can’t believe he wouldn’t ask that of Gar & Gwenith, or the others who turn up later - I don’t think he even asks it of himself in his internal monologues. This is the only thing that I felt let down by with Corban. If it’s being held back for the plot, the reveal didn’t have to come here, and could have been hyped up more if the question had been asked.
GWENITH & GAR were still great characters, I really like the less-is-more approach to their speech & actions, just makes them both feel very real; I like the way Gwenith’s desperate anxiety & solid resolve are communicated very subtly through her interactions and expressions, and the way Gar’s struggles with himself and his mission come through. However, I couldn’t help thinking that they was too easy on Corban. If they have lived in secrecy for that long, and had such self-control as to not spill the beans and to keep laying down their lives for Corban, it seems to me like they wouldn’t shy away from telling him what he needed to know. Their convictions carry them through their actions through the first novel, but then suddenly aren’t enough for them to tell Corban the hard truths, even if he doesn’t want to hear. I’m probably being unfair here.
I was sad to see Gwenith die at the end; I couldn’t shake the feeling of inevitability with this right the way through. It was sad, especially as she & Gar seemed to be getting on well & working through their grief together, but it also felt like it was made to happen rather than needed to happen. After so many lucky escapes & deft plans, it just seemed too careless of the team that she becomes Corban’s last line of defence. (Again, I am nit-picking, sorry…)
I also generally thought that more could have been done with Heb and the old magic woman (can’t remember her name and book not to hand! But you’ll know who I mean… is it Brina??) They were really nicely portrayed and I enjoyed their relationship, and their sideline relationship with Corban.
Anyway, that’s enough from me - it’s a great read, and The Faithful and the Fallen is shaping up to be a superb addition to the fantasy canon, indeed to fiction in general. Get it, read it, and love it.
FINAL THOUGHT (if you can be bothered!)
I’ve read some reviewers talking about cliches and familiar tropes in the story, and I just think it’s worth a comment - I feel the problem with a lot of writing is that it is only concerned with finding some kind of new angle or new idea all the time, perhaps due to shortening attention spans and a ‘gimme stuff’ consumer mentality to everything (think Netflix meeting demand with entire seasons of shows coming out in one go for the ‘binge watcher’!) which often leads to weird scenarios featuring characters the reader can’t relate to (personally, couldn’t cope with the Locke Lamora book. Writing was impenetrable and the concept wore thin pretty fast; just felt like Oliver all over again but without the fun or redeeming qualities).
On the other side, when familiar tropes are used in a bad way, it’s immediately apparent and dull to read - but the reason these things are classic in the first place is because they are brilliant ideas that have been told fantastically well countless times. If the idea per se was boring, it would not have continued to exist post Ancient Greece.
John Gwynne goes back to what makes a story actually any good in the first place, which is the writing. His characters feel real, the plot unfolds in an authentic way, and the prose is just enjoyable to read. If you want a counter-example, I thought that the David Eddings series was really poor: dull writing and dull, re-used ideas - and yet this is regarded by some as a classic in the genre.
Anyway, that’s just my 2p (or 2 cents if you’re across the pond). Sorry for going on - can’t wait for the next book in the series - buy Valour and support great new writing!
I sincerely hope that John has a good solid work ethic and gets some other books out soon because I cannot wait to read them.
Still it's a beautifully descriptive and well written novel. I think John Gwynn could make the phone directory look like a great book but with a vast list of characters. Well worth your time this one, but read Malice first!!
John Gwynne has a very easy to read style. Chapter length is perfect and he paints a wonderful literary picture. He strikes the perfect balance between descriptive narrative, character development and plot advancement, all working to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, wanting more.
Great story, let’s hope it continues into book 3 and 4!
I finished it yesterday. And after thinking about it for a while, I have come to the conclusion that while the book is a long one, the main character doesn't actually do / grow very much. This is just my opinion, but I was left with the feeling at the end like he didn't quite manage to unleash any real form of fury at any point. This is unlike the first book where we saw him grow and develop nicely, punishing a few adversaries in the process.
Lots of other good stuff happens to other characters of course. However it seemed to be lessened by the previous mentioned point.
I also wasn't a fan of how much more knowledge of the situation I had than the main characters. Many things only finally being revealed to them at the end which after 2 large books was just irritating.
Thus I would recommend readers to either wait for a cheaper version to be released, or at least wait until the next book is released so you can read both in succession.
Grouped with the others in the series it is an excellent book, but on it's own it doesn't deliver enough change for me.
I really enjoy the short chapters and shifting viewpoints. The characters all have interesting back stories and are well developed. John Gwynne doesn't quite have George R.R. Martin's callous disregard for his characters, but you never really know whether all the characters are going to make it. I was surprised when Kastell was killed off, but in Valour we see Maquin's character and story develop in a gripping way. Maquin is one of my favourite characters and I hope his path eventually crosses Corbans.
I found it very difficult to put this novel down reading on the train, at lunchtime and late into the night.
I hope I don't have to wait too long for Book 3, but I'll definitely be pre-ordering it.
A great book.
The story goes from strength to strength, with the plot thickening at every turn. The politicking is interesting without being over-deep, the battle scenes are sharp and effective, and the sheer variety in setting and events between the characters keep the narrative flowing even when everyone spends a lot of time trekking through the woods and chasing each other up and down mountainsides.
Only one real issue keeping Valour from five stars - unneccessary romance strikes again. Perhaps it's just because they're two of my favourites, but the unneccessary and blatant lead-ins for a romantic liasion between Veradis and Cywen ticked me off. They have no real reason to be quite so reactive to mention of one another after knowing each other for such a short time, and while I can see WHY this relationship is useful plot-wise, I worry it might keep both of them from developing in a terribly interesting manner if this becomes their sole forward movement. Likewise, Coralen doesn't get much time to set herself up before pre-romantic liasons with Corban begin, and I feel she's a little bit saboutaged by not having much of a life of her own beyond this bugeoning romance and her feelings towards her longer-established and much more interesting brothers.
These are only minor nitpicks, though, and Gwynne has already proved himself of a mighty calibre as a writer, so perhaps I shall be eating my words upon the next installment. Needless to say I will be foaming at the mouth until it arrives.
The story flows, at quite a fast pace. The scenes run together nicely and keep you wanting more. There are surprises that make you cheer and cringe alike. The characters feel even more real than in Malice, and that's saying something. I just can't rave about it enough. What an author!