Dina Sleiman. Dauntless. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Dauntless is the first book of the Valiant Heart series. I decided to read it and the second book (Chivalrous) because I requested a review copy of the third book of the series, entitled Courageous.
I just now received it. I wanted to get caught up, just in case the
third book presumes knowledge of the previous two books. I also wanted
to become accustomed to the author's writing style. And I was in a
medieval mood. It's a good change of pace!
is set in England in the early thirteenth century. John is King of
England. And he is a tyrant! There was hope that he would respect the
rights of the land-owners and limit his own power after the Magna
Carta. No such luck!
Lady Merry Ellison's
father, a baron, committed treason against King John, so John killed him
and destroyed his house and his village. Merry was driven into the
forest with other survivors, and they became like Robin Hood and his
merry men, trying to survive through theft. They become known as the
Ghosts of Farthingdale Forest.
Merry grew up
with Timothy Grey, and they were friends, maybe even more. Timothy is
now the assistant to the Earl of Wyndeshire. Although the Earl thinks
that John has gone too far, at times, the Earl dutifully carries out
John's wishes. The Earl expects Timothy to apprehend the Ghosts of
Farthingdale Forest and bring them to justice. What will Timothy do
when he finds that Merry is the leader of the group?
other significant characters. There is another John, who is a servant
of the Earl, and is actually the Earl's illegitimate son. He resents
Timothy because his father likes Timothy more, and Timothy lives in more
comfort. There is also Allen, who is the spiritual leader of the
Ghosts. He was taught to read by a local priest. Allen is infatuated
Merry really struggles with her
faith, on account of what she has experienced, and the political abuses
of religion that she has observed. She wrestles with the question of
God's character and thinks about the type of God she wants to believe
in. She, and others, come to believe that God must be looking out for
the Ghosts, since they have survived for so long.
debates also enter the picture. Timothy disapproves of what King John
did to Merry's family and village, but he feels that he has to obey the
King, due to the King's brutality, the pope's approval of the King (at
that point), and the Scriptural requirement that people obey their
rulers (Romans 13). Merry strongly disagrees. And Allen holds out some
hope that Prince Louis of France, who wants to be the King of England,
would be a better ruler than John in his treatment of the English
people, a people who are not Louis' own.
is also some ethical wrestling, as the Ghosts struggle with wanting to
please God, yet resorting to theft to meet their needs.
book was elegantly written, in terms of its prose. The prose was
formal, yet understandable. The book would have been better had it had
more political, religious, and ethical debates. The book also should
have included more detail about what exactly Merry's father did, maybe a
flashback, for that would have helped the reader to know Merry better,
and it would have rounded out the story more.
Sleiman includes an appendix in which she discusses the historical
plausibility of her story. That was informative. She even says that
things were more complex than King John being a villain.
I started the next book of the series, Chivalrous, and it actually has some of the characters from the first book. So far, it seems that one can follow Chivalrous without having read the first book, but reading the first book can still enhance one's appreciation of the second one.