Valiant, by Sarah McGuire

May 15, 2015 Book Reviews 6 ★★★★½

Valiant, by Sarah McGuireValiant by Sarah McGuire
Published by Egmont USA on April 28, 2015
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, YA (Young Adult)
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A debut fairy tale retelling featuring a strong female character and a daring quest just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.

Saville despises the bolts of velvet and silk that her father loves- he's always prized them more than he's ever loved her. Yet when he's struck ill, she'll do anything to survive, even donning boys' clothes and begging a commission to sew for the king.

Piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants led by a man who cannot be defeated. And they're marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. But Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. She tricks them into leaving, but tales of the daring tailor's triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And mere stories won't deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Valiant richly reimagines "The Brave Little Tailor," transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review

Valiant is a thoughtful, sensitive, and charming melding of “The Brave Little Tailor” and the Russian tales of Koschei. (If you’re not familiar with the latter, don’t look them up until after you’ve read the book, because spoilers.) The characters, both human and giant, are wonderful and more complex than you might expect from a fairytale retelling, and the book itself does far more than flesh out a clever folk tale – it turns it into a story with meaning and heart.

The tale is told in first person by Saville, the “brave little tailor” character who wants to be neither a tailor nor a champion. I loved her: she’s quickwitted, determined, and much braver than she thinks. She’s also compassionate and has a commendable sense of honor and duty – and a well of grief and anger that runs very deep. Her relationship with a young beggar, Will, touched my heart. Even more interesting is her relationship with the King’s advisor, Galen Verras, which starts out prickly and progresses through reluctant alliance to friendship.

McGuire does not make the mistake of caricaturing the secondary characters. Even Saville’s tyrannical father and the weak-willed King have unexpected depths. Only the true villains of the piece come across as two-dimensional, and that could be as much because Saville (as the narrator) dislikes and fears them as because the author failed to round them out.

The giants, on the other hand – at least those we actually meet – are three-dimensional (enormously so, if you’ll pardon the pun.) I love what McGuire does with them and with Saville’s growing respect for them. It turns what could have been a straightforward tale into something that makes you think: about how our expectations shade our perceptions, about tolerance, about the tendency to dehumanize those we fear or hate.

McGuire also adds depth and unexpected twists to the plot of the original folktale – the obvious one being that the tailor in this case is actually a girl in disguise. The author handles the whole cross-dressing thing perfectly: it’s not easy for Saville, who struggles to learn to move like a boy and lives in constant fear of being found out. So much more believable than all the stories in which the heroine’s disguise goes unnoticed unless they’re in a wrestling match or similar physical contact! But that’s just the first of the twists McGuire introduces. I won’t spoil the others, except to say that they all work, and if you find yourself straining to swallow the most unlikely one, remember that the townspeople of Reggen didn’t believe in giants, either, until they showed up at the city gates.

The publisher’s blurb describes Valiant as a book “just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine,” and I heartily agree. I’d categorize it as advanced MG or young YA; younger MG readers will probably enjoy it too, but they may miss the more thoughtful aspects of the book. It would be wonderful for a MG book club or even to read discuss in class, but I think older teens and adults will also find much to appreciate, as long as they bear the target audience in mind.

I was lucky enough to read a very early advance copy of this book, which won’t be published until June. I’m already planning to give it to several young friends – and snag a published copy for myself. This is one I definitely want for the hoard!

 

Challenges: COYER eligibility (ARC); Fairytales (“The Brave Little Tailor” and the Russian tales of Koschei);  Popsugar (a book you can read in a day).

four-half-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Winter 2014-2015
  • Fairytale Challenge 2015
  • PopSugar 2015 Reading challenge

6 Responses to “Valiant, by Sarah McGuire”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      And not only a fresh take on an old tale, but a tale I haven’t seen retold anywhere before this, which makes it even better!

  1. R_Hunt @ View From My Home

    I’ve heard of the Brave Little Tailor but don’t remember what I knew about it, if that makes sense. I have read a bit of Jessica Day George and have Shannon Hale on my wishlist. At least this is a book that is not mentioning Gillian Flynn or Gone Girl on its cover like all the other new releases <<– book blogger making a joke only book bloggers will understand 🙂
    R_Hunt @ View From My Home recently posted…Weeky Wrap-Up 5/15- 5/17/15My Profile