Friday, 20 May 2011

Review: Valiant by Holly Black

When 17-year-old Valerie Russell runs away to New York City, she's trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city's labyrinthine subway system. But there's something eerily beguiling about Val's new friends. Impulsive Lolli talks of monsters in the subway tunnels they call home and shoots up a shimmery amber-coloured powder that makes the shadows around her dance. Severe Luis claims he can make deals with creatures that no one else can see. And then there's Luis's brother, Dave, who makes the mistake of letting Val tag along as he makes a delivery to a woman who turns out to have goat hooves instead of feet. When a bewildered Val allows Lolli to talk her into tracking down the hidden lair of the creature for whom Luis and Dave have been working, Val finds herself bound into service by a troll named Ravus. He is as hideous as he is honourable, and as Val grows to know him, she finds herself torn between affection for him - and fear of what her new friends are becoming because of him.

My review:
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this novel at first. Val running away from home and immediately taking up with alternative street kids seemed a little too cliché for me. I felt like I’d seen that storyline on numerous teen shows and in the end, everybody learned a Very Important Lesson about the homeless. I didn’t really care for the character Lolli and I outright disliked the brothers. Also, the life Val slips into, sleeping in the New York City sewers, is so filthy and squalid that I found it pretty unpleasant to read about and imagine. There’s a sex scene that actually made me queasy (it’s not graphic, it was the particulars around it that bothered me).

However, I was intrigued by the glimpses I was getting of the magical world beneath the surface and where the story finally got me was when Ravus was introduced. I thought the haunted troll, banished from the Seelie Court, was a great character and I totally bought Val’s feelings for him. Pairings either work for me or they don’t and this one just worked for me. The blurb describes it as Beauty and the Beast and that description works if you think of Val as the beast – she’s the pissed-off one who wants to fight back at the world and Ravus is the one who calms her and loves her, flaws and all.

The fairy-tale details that Holly Black decorates this story with are just beautiful to picture (presumably the squalor of the sewer-life is done deliberately to contrast with this). Ravus tells Val about his past by creating images from the smoke of a candle, there’s a harp that's strung with strands of hair from the dead, and their ethereal voices can be heard when a strand is plucked. These were my favourite moments in the book; gorgeous and heart-breaking.

The plot kicks into high gear in the last 100 pages and it was then that I found I couldn’t put the book down until I finished. And I got an ending I liked – it’s not too prettily tied up and there are consequences for the characters, but it was happy enough to leave me with a smile on my face.

Rating: 4 stars

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