Valiant by Holly Black (Modern Faerie Tales, #2)
When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she's trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city's labyrinthine subway system.
But there's something eerily beguiling about Val's new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.
AUTHOR: Holly Black
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
LENGTH: 314 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Romance
Queer Rep Summary: Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s).
VALIANT only has one MC, which keeps it more focused than TITHE, letting us get to know this one character pretty well. The setting feels (and is) very different from TITHE, but it's so disconnected from the fae and the visceral feelings that made TITHE so good. I'm having trouble discussing it without referencing TITHE constantly, which doesn't bode well for this as a sequel. The setting relies too much on already knowing how the fae work from TITHE, but since this is a completely new protagonist who's new to the fae it would have made sense to get more of an explanation, to see a new person's wonder at this world. There is a brief Court visit, but most of the fae barely interact with the MC for various plot reasons. It is a completely different slice of this world, I will give it that.
In my review for TITHE I commented on how Asian (specifically Japanese) rep and gay rep were handled in the book and why that kept TITHE from being a book I can highly recommend. Unfortunately that's come back here. That's because TITHE established that fae have eyes which are "upturned" or "look Asian", it then the frequent but random references in VALIANT to unnamed background characters appearing Asian to the human MC (in a book where no other racial categories are mentioned) makes it feel like I'm supposed to assume all those random "Asian" people were actually fae. It's either that, or the author was concerned that the reader know that unnamed characters we don't speak to and will never see again appear Asian (and in one case, specifically Indonesian) without ever commenting on other ethnicities, which doesn't sit right with me. As for the gay rep, there's some homophobic bullying of the MC at the very start of the book, with the insinuation that a secondary character who's present is lesbian. I'm taking that as canon for this to have a lesbian character, but her sexuality doesn't come up again anywhere else in it, and it also leaves ambiguous whether the MC is straight or if the bully was right that she's queer and she's maybe bi or pan (since she's in a canon het romance later on). It's completely superfluous to the story and the only thing I can think it's trying to accomplish in the narrative is maybe establish that she's unhappy at school as well as at home, since her bully is on the same school sports team as her. Either way, it feels like, once again in this series, the treatment of Asian characters is narratively strange and very othering, and queerness is used to explain ostracization. Which, you know, is a thing, being a queer kid can be lonely in an unsupportive environment, but this book just lets it hang there, with neither explanation nor relief. I want to be clear, I'm all for queer background characters, main characters, everything. I just want their queerness to exist as more than just an explanation for homophobic slurs against allocishet main characters.
Since this is book two of a trilogy, it's time for the sequel check! Normally I'd check whether it wraps up something left hanging from the previous book, whether it has a storyline which starts in this book and wasn't present in the previous one, and whether it has a major thing that's introduced and resolved within the book, but functionally this is indistinguishable from just being a stand-alone book. It's technically in the same world, and we briefly run into some of the book one characters, but you wouldn't have to change anything to make it stand by itself. There is a status quo shift after book one which has effects in this book, but, again, it could just have easily just been the starting point without any reference to the first book. It's such a self-contained story that it didn't leave anything open to resolve in the next one. I guess I want to know what happens to these characters next, but it didn't even leave their options very open since they have an entire conversation about what they'll do after and it seems pretty settled. I am happy to report that the MC feels very different from either of the MC's from TITHE. and finally, this would completely make sense if someone picked it up without having read the first one, the only thing you'd be missing is that you wouldn't understand a couple of references to prior events and you wouldn't recognize some of the characters from TITHE who briefly appear here. One positive from its position in the series is that I feel like I got to see what the previous MC's are up to, so that was nice.
I hate think this book in the trilogy is completely skippable, but that's how I feel about it. The thing that turns this from a book I can't highly recommend into one I would actively advise you to avoid is that it kept the problems from TITHE without most of the stuff that made TITHE shine, and also without the in-universe justifications for those problems. The Asian rep in TITHE is cringey but it has an explanation. In VALIANT there is no explanation, just an obsessive need to make sure we know every time there's an Asian face in the scenery (I hesitate to even call it rep). The gay rep in TITHE is tangled with abuse and BDSM in a way that could be problematic but also creates a really engaging MC whose queer identity matters to the story. In VALIANT there's just a homophobic slur and a probably queer best friend to come back in to the rescue when the (implicitly allocishet) MC needs some help.
CW for homophobia, sexism, self harm, drug abuse, drug use, violence, parental death (backstory), death.
Clear Your Shit Readathon 2020 prompt: Teeth Guild Final Boss - Book you don't remember