by Casey L. Bond
Publication: February 22, 2022
A beautiful cover and a recommendation from a fellow bookstagrammer prompted me to give the book a try. It also helped that the book is pitched as “Mulan meets The Hundredth Queen.” Through a matchmaker, Vayl’s father solidifies her future as the emperor’s newest concubine. Although that is not the future she wants, Vayl has no other choice after her father dies and her brother leaves her with a message she is to deliver through the matchmaker to someone only known as the Dragon. Fueled by the deaths of her father and brother, Vayl vows to avenge them once she reaches the palace as the emperor’s newest concubine.
Vayl is headstrong and makes the most of what she can with her current situation. She is her father’s caretaker, while her brother is a soldier and hardly home. Although she has been dealt a difficult hand, she doesn’t give up. It’s her focus and ability to push forward that gets her through her brother’s death (I promise this isn’t a spoiler. It’s in the book’s description) and headed straight to the matchmaker. I appreciated Bond not having Vayl fall into the “chosen one” trap. Vayl trains hard and fast to acquire the minimal amount of skills she needs to fulfill her goals.
There is a lot to like about the book, especially the world-building and a compelling plot. One of the most interesting aspects is the gods who watch over this world. They claim mortals as their own and intervene in lives when they want. It was a little confusing at first because references are often made to them, such as the dawn of a new day referred to as one god giving way to another. Once I was able to recognize names and differentiate the people from the gods, understanding the story became a lot easier.
The plot is compelling, but the execution fell just a bit short of expectations. A lot of time is spent on Vayl learning to defend herself along with becoming better acquainted with the other characters. It works out well for establishing the relationships that will be crucial for her survival. It also made me care about characters beyond Vayl. The time spent training Vayl makes it believable that she might accomplish her task. Additionally, it successfully creates build-up leading to her infiltrating the palace; however, everything after happens too quickly; the intrigue is short-lived. I was disappointed with what promised to be a lot more action than I was given. I wish the second half would have been longer to justify all the build-up.
Overall, I enjoyed Valor and also liked Bond’s writing, but more palace intrigue would have served for a better experience.