Valor (or Valour, depending on which copy you end up with) is book two of The Faithful and the Fallen and sequel to Malice. While I thought that Malice was an absolutely incredible debut, Valor did nothing but improve upon an already fantastic story. There have been many comparisons between this series and Martin’s A Game of Thrones, and I completely see where these comparisons come from. But The Faithful and the Fallen seems like a much more hopeful and emotionally compelling story than A Song of Ice and Fire, and I believe that one day it will rise above these comparisons and stand firmly on its own as a classic of the genre.
Everything I loved about Malice was improved upon in Valor. The relationships, be they between friends or family or humans and their animals, were handled with finesse, and their growth was completely believable. I have never in my life been so attached to literary animals, and they are many and prevalent in this book. I’m especially attached to Fech, though I love them all. There is a sense of camaraderie in this series that is completely unique. There isn’t the sass present in the Gentleman Bastards series or in Sanderson’s books, but there is a deep closeness between family and friend both human and animal that I’ve never experienced in any other fantasy series.
“This world may be full of greed and tragedy and darkness, but I am fortunate beyond measure to have such people around me.”
And yet, in spite of this closeness, no one is safe. People die. Often. And because their attachments to their groups are so emphasized, their loss is felt more keenly than in many other books I’ve read. Every death is mourned, both by the characters left behind and by myself as a reader. (Because of the unavoidable death, I’ve decided not to mention any characters by name. Except Fech. I couldn’t help myself there.)
“Memory is a double-edged sword. It can keep you strong through dark times, but it can also cripple you, keep you locked in a moment that no longer exists.”
Something else I really love about this series is the overarching religious and supernatural elements of the war being waged. Spiritual warfare has always fascinated me, and some of my favorite books are Christian fantasies where spiritual warfare is the focus. Gwynne has handled this aspect of his series incredibly well. There is no preachiness here. The spiritual part of the war is presented as matter-of-factly as the rest of the war. And in no way does Gwynne seem to be expressing his own views on religion through his work. It was lovingly and respectfully handled without any aim to proselytize or tear down the beliefs of others, and I appreciate this immensely.
On to the warfare itself. War has erupted across the land, the smaller pockets we saw in the first book spreading far and wide. And the descriptions of the battles never bored me. Which is one of the biggest compliments I can pay this book. No matter how well written, I almost always get bogged down in books where warfare and battles are such a large part of the narrative. Not so with this series. Gwynne’s descriptions of the battles taking place were completely enthralling. The combat always felt close and personal, even in the presence of new, less than honorable techniques.
The world itself also feels close and personal. With Westeros and the lands beyond it in A Song of Ice and Fire, I often felt lost. I never feel lost here in the Banished Lands. They feel tighter, if that makes sense. I never forget where I am. At least, I never forget where I am in the book. Because I often forgot where I physically was while reading. This series is absorbing and moving and incredibly well-written, so while I am only halfway through, I have absolutely no qualms about recommending it to everyone.