4 out of 4 stars
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Valor is a small country secluded in twelve valleys between the Madeeva Mountains. Each of its twelve districts has a unique climate and specializes in different crops. 17-year-old Ripley lives in District One, the most favorable for growing grapes. She is the daughter of the legendary Ananias and Maria, whose combined efforts saved Valor from the barbarian invasion led by Zortez the Conqueror in 1492 AD.
After her father’s suspicious death, Ripley works side by side with her mother on their farm. Her biggest dream is to attend the Trials, a yearly competition to select the best candidates for full-time military service. She thinks she can rely on Kaleb, her fiancé, but he only wants to marry her to get her land and title and enter influential circles. Her only hope is to train with Takeshi, a Japanese samurai who is a loyal friend of her parents. Secretly in love with Ripley, Lieutenant Darius will do his best to support her in her endeavors. If she succeeds in being the first female soldier in Valor, she becomes a symbol of hope for all the women striving to survive in a patriarchal society. An evil coalition attempts to get rid of her and stifle popular insurgence.
Ripley of Valor by Thoren Syndergaard is book one in a trilogy. It is a young adult medieval novel belonging to the fantasy genre. Springing from the author’s passion for the Middle Ages, it features a strong female protagonist and tackles the complex issue of gender equality. These are the aspects I liked most about it. I love stories where women fight for their rights. I particularly enjoyed Maria’s teachings to her daughter. On her mother’s wishes, Ripley acts against the norms of the time. In Valor, women could not own property, become apprentices, attend school, or go into battle.
The novel is primarily character-driven. However, the author does a great job with the plot development too. The story is full of action and intrigue, and many scenes keep the readers on the edge of their seats. In Part 1, I could hardly wait for the outcome of the life-and-death battle where Ananias and his army faced the same odds as the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae. Part 2 abounds in scenes of similar intensity: the attack on Maria, Ripley’s arrest, and all the traps set for Ripley during the Trials. These scenes are accompanied by marvelous illustrations signed by incredible artists: Chalky Nan, Oleh Yolchiiev, and Lucy Lisett.
The author is skillful at portraying both positive and negative characters. The plot revolves around Ripley’s development. From this perspective, the book is a coming-of-age story. Ripley is young and vulnerable, makes many mistakes, and gradually learns who her true friends are. You will definitely admire her for her courage, kindness, and generosity. Takeshi and his two daughters, Miho and Makie, represent a picturesque trio reflecting Japanese discipline and politeness. Lieutenant Darius is commendable for his silent love and power of self-sacrifice. Finally, Vincent, Thadius, Kaleb, and the Captain of the Guard have distinctive features that set them apart in a world of darkness.
Nothing is displeasing about this novel. For this reason, I am rating it 4 out of 4 stars. I counted less than ten editing errors, mostly punctuation mistakes. The occasional profanities fit the context. I wholeheartedly recommend Thoren Syndergaard’s book to young adults fond of adventure stories with lots of action and a bit of romance. Those with a penchant for the Middle Ages and women’s status in a patriarchal society could also add the book to their reading lists.
Ripley of Valor
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