CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 21 . . . . February 10, 2017
Fallon is the younger daughter of a Celtic king who clearly remembers when Julius Caesar invaded Britain and her older sister, Sorcha, was killed in the battle. As her seventeenth birthday draws near, Fallon trains hard, expecting to become a part of her father's war band. However circumstances intervene, and Fallon is captured and eventually sold to a training school for female gladiators in Rome. Much to Fallon's dismay, the school is owned by Caesar, himself, and she is now his property. He may also be the only hope she has of surviving her ordeal.
Lesley Livingston has authored many young adult novels with strong female protagonists, and The Valiant is no exception. Fallon is the daughter of a king, and so right from the beginning she has a sense of her own worth and importance. Despite her capture and subsequent position as a slave, Fallon is able to maintain her strong sense of self and to stand up for her beliefs.
Livingston is interested in both history and mythology and clearly draws upon both to create the background for this novel. The story begins with the Cantii tribe of Prydain, or Britannia, and readers glimpse Celtic traditions and superstitions. The remainder of the tale is set in Rome and introduces the world of slavery and the world of the Roman gladiatrix. Julius Caesar and Cleopatra are among the well-known historical figures included in the novel. The setting is realistic in its details and gives young readers a history lesson embedded in adventure, drama and romance. In her brief introduction to the book, Livingston mentions that, in 2001, archeologists were able to find definitive proof that female gladiators existed in Rome and led lives as dangerous and deadly as their male counterparts.
A central theme of the novel is that of sisterhood, both literally and figuratively. Fallon is devastated when her older sister dies in battle, and she becomes ever more determined to honour her sister's memory. As well, Fallon is surrounded by new sisters in the school for gladiators. Some become good friends while the motives of others are less trustworthy. Not only must the young women fight opponents from other schools, they must also be constantly aware of the aggression and back-stabbing within their own group. Only the strongest, bravest and most intelligent will live to continue fighting.
There are various subplots within the novel which are not brought to a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps a sequel is planned. There are threats against Fallon, but this mystery is never solved and becomes something of a distraction within the main plot. Likewise, the love stories in the book aren't truly convincing. Fallon is certain she loves and wants to marry Mael at the outset of the novel. When this becomes impossible, she seems to quickly and easily fall in love with Cai, a Roman soldier and thus the sort of man she has declared to be her sworn enemy. Again, this is more of a distraction than an important element of the plot.
Young adults will appreciate the adventure and movement of the novel, but there are moments when events seem to happen at such a fast pace readers cannot really appreciate them. The section of the story dealing with the Celts and Fallon's background takes only a few chapters. Not one, but two characters in the novel "come back from the dead" which seems highly fortuitous despite the author's explanations. The ending also is rushed, introducing a satanic sort of cult which is never really explained and placing Fallon's climactic major fight and its aftermath within the last ten pages. As mentioned earlier, perhaps this is intentional so that readers will anticipate a sequel.
Livingston gives her readers a feisty female gladiatrix, lots of action and the exotic background of ancient Rome in The Valiant. Young adults will find this an entertaining and engrossing read despite its shortcomings.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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