Book Review: Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie
by R.J. Carter
Published: October 21, 2006
If you have kids who devoured The Spiderwick Chronicles, you may find yourself picking up Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, written by the same author. And while you'd certainly be picking up a tale of adventure, derring-do, and the like, you may want to think twice before putting it into the hands of younger readers -- the book is replete with mature language, drug use, and more than a little sexuality.
Val is a high school student who's not really all that outstanding. She has a beauty obsessed mother, a mohawk-sporting punk-rocker boyfriend, and a lesbian best friend. Not an idyllic life -- she gets into fights at school, being a bit of a misfit -- but it's a livable one.
Until the night her boyfriend Tom doesn't show up to take her out. When Val leaves without him, she decides to double back home. Which is when she catches her boyfriend in flagrante delicto with her mother on the living room couch. Shocked, Val runs off and calls her best friend, Ruth... who, it turns out, knew all along but couldn't find the words to tell Val.
Feeling betrayed on all sides, Val takes the train into New York City with no plans of any kind and ends up living on the streets. It's here that she meets up with Luis, his brother Sketchy Dave, and the girl who hangs with them, Lollipop. They survive by dumpster diving and selling their finds on the sidewalk. But Luis also has a job on the side -- he runs deliveries for somebody, deliveries that Dave helps him with. But when Val accompanies Dave on one of his deliveries, she's not so much concerned by what he's delivering, but what he's delivering them to... people who could only be called people in the loosest sense of the word. Creatures with hooves, with horns, with green skin.
She can't believe that she's seen what Lolli tells her are faeries -- nor that Dave and Luis deliver to them and for them all the time. It's not until Lolli takes Val on a breaking-and-entering job to the lair of a troll, Ravus, that Val fully believes. And with believing, comes more questions:
When Ravus catches Val and Lolli, he puts a geas on Val, binding her to his service for a time. Now she will be running deliveries for him. What she delivers is a powder that helps the faeries living in exile in New York cope with the effects of all the iron -- anathema to faeries -- that surrounds them everywhere they go. But the powder also has another use; Lolli calls it Never -- short for Nevermore. If a human takes it -- injects it, smokes it, etc. -- it imbues that person with temporary faerie glamour, allowing for the making of illusions, the altering of reality. And it's also highly addictive, which is why it's called Nevermore: never more than once a day, never more than two days in a row.
It was strange how when crazy things happened, it was hard to follow the tracery of reasons and impulses and thoughts that got you to the crazy place. Even though Val had wanted to find evidence of faeries, the actual proof was overwhelming. How many faeries were there and what other things might there be? In a world where faeries were real, might there be demons or vampires or sea monsters? How could these things exist and it not be on the front cover of every newspaper everywhere?
The conflict in the story -- as if there hasn't been enough already -- comes in the way of faerie murders. Ravus's customers are starting to turn up dead; poisoned. And Ravus is naturally the prime suspect, with Luis becoming a fast second (especially when it's learned he and his friends have been skimming off the top of the deliveries to get a faerie high.) In an act of bravery, Val puts herself between Ravus and an attacking faerie, using her lacrosse skills as a fighting technique in Ravus's defense. This earns her Ravus's respect (and, ultimately, far more) and he grants her a boon in addition to releasing her from his service. What she requests puts her on a path of adventure that shifts the story into high gear until coming to a charged confrontation before the entire Unseelie Court.
Holly Black's Valiant is, as the title declares, "a modern tale of faerie", falling somewhere between Laurell K. Hamilton's A Kiss of Shadows and Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Written with an edge sharper than any enchanted sword, Valiant follows a young female lead character from the lowest point her life could ever obtain, into even lower pits of homelessness and addiction, and finally into ultimate redemption and empowerment. It's a real nail-biter for the older teen to the risk-taking adult.