Book review: “Valiant” by Holly Black

January 24, 2013

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Subtitled A Modern Tale of Faerie, this companion to Tithe transports the magical world of mermaids, trolls, and other fey creatures into present-day New York City. Parents concerned about “adult content” might want to evaluate this book for themselves before sharing it with their kids, or prepare to discuss it with them. This isn’t your godmother’s fairyland. It’s a gritty, “ghetto” Faerie featuring runaway children and orphans squatting on an abandoned subway platform, getting mixed up in sex, drugs, and murder—plus an eensy weensy plot to assassinate the king of the Unseelie Court.

It’s an underside of New York, in which exiled fey folk cope with the deadly iron that surrounds them by taking a potion brewed by an alchemically-inclined troll who lives under the Manhattan Bridge. And when that troll, named Ravus, is framed for the poisoning murders of several members of the magical community, and the real killer cuts the heart out of his chest and makes a getaway, who will save him? Who, indeed, but a confused, angry, runaway junkie named Val who, against all odds, has fallen in love with him?

Val gets mixed up in this business after she catches her mum making out with her (Val’s) boyfriend. Before she has time to think about what she’s doing, Val shaves her head and moves in with a trio of flaky teens who live mostly by diving for junk in dumpsters and selling what they find. Luis has one messed-up eye, but can see through magical glamors. He serves Ravus in exchange for saving the life of his brother Dave, who was shot when their similarly gifted father went nuts and killed their mother. While Luis tries to protect his brother, Dave is making trouble of his own with the help of his sometime girlfriend Lolli. The two of them have been skimming the potion Luis is supposed to deliver to Ravus’s clients. Why? (This part of the review is where parents might want to cover their kids’ eyes.) Because they have figured out that when smoked or injected, this so-called Nevermore makes them feel groovy. It gives them not only weird hallucinations, but also the power to make people see, think, or do whatever they want.

This is not a book that (no pun intended) glamorizes drug use. In fact, it depicts the harm these kids do to themselves so vividly that anyone brave enough to continue reading will squirm with discomfort while doing so. But also, by the way, it tells a compelling story of love that sees past surface appearances, of the girl power of one flawed yet fierce heroine, of powers too awful to be used for good, of a mystery with a solution that will sadden you, of a quest whose urgency will keep you on edge throughout the final third of the book. Though at first this book does not seem in any hurry to take you anywhere appealing or desirable to visit, it finally proves to be a fast-paced adventure. By the end, you will recognize some old friends, visit a place of wonderful danger, and witness a battle that will leave you buzzing with eagerness to explore the next book in the series: Ironside.

This book was okay. Depending on the themes, you may or may not like this book. Give it a try…but only after reading Potter again.

This book was okay. Depending on the themes, you may or may not like this book. Give it a try…but only after reading Potter again.