John Gwynne has set the bar extremely high for himself following the conclusion of Malice. It left me wondering how is he going to top this and what exactly does he have in story for his characters, whom I consider to be among the best in epic fantasy. I can safely say that Valor doesn’t suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump and exceeded my expectations in everyway! This will be a spoiler free review, but I will be touching on some events that do happen in Malice, so keep this in mind should you continue reading this review. Now lets join our characters as they traverse the dreaded Banished Lands.
Immediately following the conclusion of Malice, we follow Corban and his friends as they flee north after their home of Dun Crin is invaded, leaving the whole fortress in chaos. The journey will not be an easy one as they find themselves in enemy territory and a warband ambitiously hunting them. they need to find a safe haven before the cold of winter sets in Then we switch to Cywen, captured by the enemy invaders as her comrades have fled. Treated as a prisoner, she is forced to travel in pursuit of her brother but she will not be deterred. She sets a plan to survive and gain vital information about the enemy and what treasures they seek. Finally we have Nathair and Veradis story lines. Fresh of his their victories in Arcona, Nathair has launched a holy crusade in the Banished Lands and challenging any who opposes him in his endeavor. Veradis, Nathair’s first sword, is fiercely loyal to the crusade efforts and to Nathairs command, but starts to question the moral implications surrounding the expedition. At what point does the balance scale tip where the ends don’t always justify the means? Can questionable deeds be considered just if you are on the right side? Veradis is one on the most realized characters I have ever read in fantasy and he kept me engage for the entire ride.
We also get to experience new character for the first time in Valor. First we have Fidele, mother to Nathair, as she deals with the turmoil surrounding the death of her husband. She faces political unrest and eventually finds herself in bad company. Next we follow Maquin, captured and sold into slavery he must learn to fight his way out of the gladiatorial pits and become a legend. Maquin has only one thing on his mind – revenge. Readers will love Maquin as his story arc progresses. Finally we have Lykos, king of the three southern isles, he quickly becomes the character everybody will love to hate. I won’t get into specifics but there were several scenes where I wish he were alive for me to punch him in the face! This speaks to the characterization that John Gwynne puts into his story and how real the characters felt to me.
Valor is a non stop action novel that drives the story seamlessly from beginning to end. With excellent pacing, unexpected twists, and high stake battles written as if John Gwynne were a general on the field. What made Malice such as joy to read is built upon in every way in Valor. The Faithful and the Fallen has grown to be my favorite epic fantasy series in a room with giants of the genre. You will laugh, cry, shout, and scream and every turn, begging John Gwynne to tell you more. Just don’t get too attached to anyone or your heart will be broken.
Cheers to you John Gwynne. You are 2 for 2 on creating your masterpiece!
Truth and Courage!