Valour, Book 2 of The Faithful and the Fallen, by John Gwynne

After really enjoying John Gwynne’s award winning debut novel Malice, I’d been looking forward to the release of Valour for some time and was thrilled to get hold of a copy to review from the publisher. There was a worry that after such a strong debut, Valour would suffer from a sort of “second book syndrome” but I’m pleased to say this was not the case. If anything, I’d say Valour manages to surpass what was already a very strong debut, somehow managing to be even better than Malice.

The novel picks up just where Malice left off, and not only in terms of the storyline, but also in the pace and style of writing that had served so well in that opening book of the series. In fact, the two novels are so evenly sized, and flow from one to the other so well, it almost seems that Gwynne wrote one great, glorious beast of a book, cut it in half and then just neatened up the edges for publication. It works fantastically well and gets us right back into the world we left behind on turning the last page of Malice.

We continue with our core group of point of view characters, but what I like is that this isn’t just done to progress the story by having one POV character for each different location. Often, our POV characters will be together, but will still share out the “facetime” so we can see those different viewpoints and how the cast interact with each other, how they feel about each other.

The scenes and characters within them are nicely varied as well, giving a change of direction without necessarily leading to a change of pace. We have the core group around Corban, on the run and hunted by the combined forces of Nathair and Rhin. There’s the almost political wrangling around Fidele as she struggles to keep control of a kingdom with an absent lord. Then there’s the plight of Cywen, deep inside what is suddenly enemy territory but still forming a bond with those around her. We also see the rollercoaster ride shared by the brothers of the Gadrai, some of my favourite individual characters from Malice.

The plot of both Malice and Valour revolves around prophecy and what’s almost a stereotypically reluctant saviour. Although this is such an important part of the story, and a key to many of the characters on both sides, the real driving force behind the books, and in Valour especially, is the human element. Key scenes focus on themes of betrayal and revenge, of war and politics and the fight for freedom, and these all combine beautifully to keep the pages turning swiftly.

John Gwynne is a writer good enough to create characters you can love, and confident enough to kill them off when the time is right. We’re not talking someone who will take everyone you care about and give them a savage ending, someone who will stop you getting behind a character for fear they’ll be the next on the butcher’s block. Instead, Valour embraces the natural course of war and betrayal. People die, some more brutally than others, and Gwynne builds this into his storytelling well. It’s easy to get the impression that almost no one is safe, but that’s part of the journey and if it was any other way it just wouldn’t seem right.

At present, I understand that we’re halfway through a series of four books, and if the trend set in the first two continues, the next instalment will be a big success. Where Malice showed that it’s not afraid to stand on its own amongst the giants of the genre, Valour, for me at least, shows that this is a series on its way to becoming one of those giants in its own right.

Overall: A great read. Real characters in a well crafted world you can really immerse yourself in to.
Dominish rating: 92%

With this instalment, John Gwynne really is spoiling us