A debut fairy tale reimagining featuring a strong female character and a daring quest just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.
Saville hates sewing. How can she not when her father, the Tailor, loves his bolts of velvet and silk far more than he’s ever loved her? Yet, when he is struck ill shortly after they arrive in the city of Reggen, Saville must don boy’s clothes in the hopes of gaining a commission from the king to keep them fed.
The kingdom is soon on edge when stories spread of an army of giants led by a man who cannot be killed. But giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.
And then the giants do come to the city gates, two larger-than-life scouts whom Saville cunningly tricks into leaving. The Tailor of Reggen is the hero of the kingdom, the king promises his sister’s hand in marriage, and by the time Saville reaches the palace doors, it is widely known that the Tailor single-handedly killed the giants.
When her secret – that she’s a girl – is quickly discovered by Lord Galen Verras, the king’s cousin, Saville’s swept into the twists and turns of court politics. The deathless man is very real, and he will use his giant army to ensure he is given the throne freely or by force.
Now, only a tailor girl with courage and cunning can see beyond the tales to discover the truth and save the kingdom again.
Valiant is a rich reimaging of “The Brave Little Tailor,” artfully crafting a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.
Let’s face it, fairy tale retellings are a dime a dozen these days, and the trend was feeling dead-horse-beaten long before I picked up this book – but this story surprised me, in a good way. I hesitate to use the word “fresh” – a platitude as well-worn as fairy tale retellings themselves – but this book did feel startlingly unfamiliar, and that made for a very pleasant read.
Now maybe a part of what I liked so much about this story is the simple fact that The Brave Little Tailor is a tale less well known than Snow White or Sleeping Beauty – and therefore a tale less employed in the retelling game – but I also think the author deserves a lot of credit for making this a story in its own right, with a character of its own. And I very much enjoyed Saville’s travails – her fraught relationship with her father, and her struggle to find her place in the world – and I also really liked how this story avoided getting bogged down in the familiar fairy tale trope mires. So while yes, Saville does disguise herself as a boy (of course), rather than unrealistically belaboring her deception, this story lets her ruse gets uncovered fairly quickly – and frankly it was lovely to see a character have to deal with the after, with the consequences of her deception, rather than just the usual mechanics of the deception itself. And so not only did Saville have to struggle with pretending to be the hero everyone wanted her to be, but also with being a pawn in the larger game of royal politics, a game which she knows nothing about – and watching Savillle try to navigate the treacherous sea of enemies, both without the walls and within, made for a fascinating read.
Now that said, I did find myself thinking, towards the back third of this book, that the story employed people sitting around telling stories to each other a bit too much – and not only were there a few too many fire-side chats, but they also happened to take place between people who conveniently knew exactly what the other character most needed to hear. And while I liked the story that was being related, I could feel the lack of movement; I could feel that I was being told a story, instead of watching a story unfold – and that stifled Saville’s agency a bit (though not enough to hamstring the story – but enough to drag on the narrative), because frankly she wasn’t doing all that much, which made the story feel weirdly passive at times. On top of which, all that helpful chatting resulted in the solution to the magical mystery arriving far too neatly and conveniently – because that’s what happens when everyone tells the one crucial thing to the one person who most needs to hear it – and the finale ended feeling a bit deflated as a result. So while it’s not that I didn’t want to see how this story ended – I did, no question – I do think the back end wasn’t quite as compelling as the front. But still, at the end of the day, I liked how this story ended, and was satisfied by the conclusion – I just wish it had been shown rather than told.
Still, all in all, I did enjoy this book – a book I think was unfairly hurt by Egmont USA kicking the bucket practically day and date with its release – and I would definitely recommend it to anyone feeling in need of fairy tale adventure. And I definitely look forward to seeing what this author does next.
Byrt Grade: B+
As Levar Burton likes to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
McGuire does a nice job twisting the original tale with added nuance and emotional heft. In short, a pleasant one for fans of fairytales; I’d offer this one to those who enjoy Jessica Day George’s books about the 12 Dancing Princesses in particular.
McGuire crafts a richly detailed cast, and her heroine brings verve to a familiar story. Explanations of the giants’ mythology and the mystical eternal heart slow the action a bit, but readers will be rewarded by a satisfying conclusion.