When Prince Valamon is impossibly taken from the heart of Algaris Castle, the only clue as to motive or culprit is the use of unknown sorcery.
Reclusive cleric Seris is happily tending to his book-infested temple when he finds himself recruited to the politically compromised rescue mission. His sole companion on the journey is Elhan, a cheerfully disturbed vagrant girl with terrifying combat skills and her own enigmatic reasons for seeking the prince.
Venturing into the wild, unconquered lands, Seris has no fighting prowess, no survival skills, and no charisma, as Elhan keeps pointing out. Armed only with a stubborn streak and creative diplomacy, he must find a way to survive outlaw towns, enchanted tropical isles, and incendiary masquerades, all without breaking his vow to do no harm.
Chasing rumours of rising warlords and the return of the vanished sorcerers, Seris and Elhan soon discover a web of treachery and long-buried secrets that go far beyond a kidnapped prince.
As enemies rise from beyond the empire and within it, Seris and Elhan realise that the key to saving Valamon and averting a war may lie in their own bloody pasts, and the fate of their fragile friendship.
I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.
The Hunt for Valamon is Australian author D.K. Mok’s second novel (Her first novel, The Other Tree, I also reviewed.) The Hunt for Valamon is high/epic fantasy, a departure from The Other Tree’s urban fantasy.
First of all, I have to comment on that incredible cover art. Mok’s books (both published by Spence City) have had the most gorgeous covers. Huge kudos to the cover artist.
Let me tell you a story of teenage and young adult me. I loved epic fantasy. In high school, I would walk through the aisle looking for the distinctive fat paperbacks (preferably a series, since it lasted longer) that would give me an escape from the world. I devoured Raymond E. Feist’s books, and waited impatiently through university for each Wheel of Time book to be released. I loved fantasy, and for a while read fairly indiscriminately. Wizards and magic and dragons? I was there.
And then I read a lot more, and started seeing the same old tired tropes being trotted out again and again. Farmboy who goes on a journey and saves the kingdom and becomes a prince? Princess who is little more than a pretty trophy to be won? There were always exceptions, of course, but the old tropes were still there far too often, and I drifted away from the genre.
Now, I’m slowly coming back to reading epic fantasy, mostly because of some of the incredible authors who are breaking those old tropes and breathing life back into fantasy. Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire is pretty much a must-read, especially if, like me, you were burned out on a lot of the same-old same-old.
Now, I’m a fan of Mok’s work in general, but I will admit to some trepidation in reading The Hunt for Valamon. And honestly, I shouldn’t have had any. Mok brings a particular uniqueness to the genre with this book: there’s a good dose of modernity and originality in this book, and honestly, it’s just plain fun. There are no trophy princesses, not a farmboy-turned-prince in sight.
The book begins when Prince Valamon, heir to the throne, vanishes mysteriously from his room in the castle. A tournament is held to find a champion to be sent on the titular hunt. Elhan, a mysterious warrior who is followed by a curse, enters and wins. She sets out on her quest with Seris, a cleric with healing abilities.
Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? There’s a quest, someone to be rescued. But in every aspect of this book, Mok brings something new. It’s a prince who needs to be rescued, for one. Said prince, Valamon, is seen by others as being vague, and quite frankly, not a suitable heir to the throne. As the book progresses, we have chapters from Valamon’s point of view in captivity, and we learn more and more about him (also, there are scenes where he attempts to break out of his cell using straw and hessian, which are kind of awesome).
The female characters in this book are incredible. There are women in positions of power – Elhan is an accomplished warrior, despite being cursed to bring death and destruction everywhere she goes, and rightly feared because of it. We also have Qara, childhood friend of the princes who has grown up to become a royal adviser, and Haska, who had a hand in Valamon’s kidnapping. The reader sees chapters from all of their points of view, allowing Mok to flesh out all of the characters fully. There are no cackling two-dimensional villains here, just real people, all of whom believe that their actions are right.
And Seris also needs to be noted. He’s a cleric who has the power of healing granted to him by the goddess he serves, and could easily have become a passive or weak character, especially when juxtaposed against so many other physically strong characters. Mok draws him finely, and gives him strength of a different fashion – he has the strength of conviction, of belief, and he always stays good and true to his beliefs.
If you’re tired of grimdark fantasy, I’d suggest that The Hunt for Valamon is a good place to start. There are serious issues at stake here, but there’s always a lightness there, too, with just enough humour to balance the darker aspects of the book.
I did feel at times that some of the modern language that Mok uses in this book jarred, but then I took a step back and thought about it. The language that we’re used to seeing with so much epic fantasy goes along with so many of the old tropes, and why shouldn’t a different kind of fantasy also use a different kind of language?
Highly recommended to anyone who loves fantasy, or, like me, has burned out on all the same old fantasy tropes.
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