Valiant, by Holly Black (Simon and Schuster, 2005)

When Valerie Russell’s life turns upside-down, and she’s simultaneously betrayed by both her mother and her boyfriend, she runs away from home, leaving behind everything she knows to eke out a new existence for herself on the streets, and in the abandoned sewers, of New York City. There, she can reinvent herself, scrounging on the streets with her new friends, and gradually falling into a world where magic is real and things aren’t what they seem. The strangest thing of all comes when she accompanies her friends to visit the lair of a being called Ravus, who turns out to be a not-entirely unpleasant troll in exile from the Courts of Faerie. Bound to serve Ravus after he catches her in his home, Valerie soon learns much about the hidden magical world that exists alongside our own, and she’s quickly caught up in schemes both mortal and Fae, doing favors and running errands to expunge her debt. But then she discovers she’s also bound by ties of friendship and honor, ties which will cost her dearly once she starts to use a magical drug that makes its users whims into reality for a time. Even if Val can kick her new habit, she won’t be free of a danger that stalks the Fae of New York. The question isn’t “can Val escape the hold of Faerie once it’s in her soul,” it’s “what changes will it wreak in her life before it’s through?”

Valiant, like Tithe before it, is Holly Black’s take on what happens when the worlds of the mundane and the magical overlap. Her New York is as gritty, vibrant, dangerous, and alluring as any fantasy world, and the Fae who inhabit it are as capricious and slippery as their forebears in the old fairy tales. While almost no urban fantasy can live up to the love I hold for Emma Bull’s War For The Oaks, Black’s books come pretty darn close, and only time will tell if they can equal it. There’s a fair amount of urban fantasy for teens out there today, and Valiant is definitely ahead of the pack. Don’t miss it.

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