Reviews tagging 'Colonisation'

Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

2 reviews

bluejayreads's review

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In my last library trip, I picked up two books, and this is actually the one I was less excited about. Both the cover and description seemed weak and just a tiny bit corny. However, the concept of the beasts that may not be as antagonistic as previously thought and the Filipino inspiration were enough that I decided to give it a shot. 

And oh boy. It sucked me in within just a few pages and I blazed right through almost four hundred intense and rich pages. I had to go back and read paragraphs again sometimes because I would inadvertently skip huge chunks of the text in my excitement to find out what happens. 

We'll start with the simple - the world. The rainforest where people live on platforms on huge trees is not a very complicated setting, but it's unique and vivid and very cool. There are some very neat details about society, as well, such as "marks" (which I gather are something like tattoos) to commemorate important things in your life and the way every city, town, and settlement is just … a single tree. There may not be a ton of depth to explore, but the breadth is spectacular. The characters do a lot of traveling and there are always new interesting sights for the reader and the characters. There was almost no exposition, but I still understand and appreciate the beautiful, lush, dangerous rainforest and the society built in the trees. 

And in this society we have Seri and the valiants. Seri's growth is spectacular. She starts off relatable in a quiet way. She ends up as an aide to a legendary commander not intentionally, but because she took the first opportunity she could to run away from the memory of something painful. But as the story goes on, just by virtue of doing her best and dealing with what's put in front of her, she becomes the stuff of heroic legend - braver, more confident, and powerful (with just a touch of the overpowered protagonist trope I love). She's in her late teens during this story, and it really feels like she matures into an adult. 

Other valiants thread through the story, but Eshai is the one consistent through the whole book, and she played a much bigger role than I anticipated from the back cover. And I loved the whole concept of her. She's a huge legendary folk hero, but in real life she's disorganized, has a temper, good at what she does but still feels like she's a little over her head, and not really excited to be a folk hero but if that's the role she has to play she's gonna do it. I also adored the dynamic between Eshai and Seri. It's hard to describe, but it was very good. 

If you like action, this book has quite a bit of action. Almost all of it is large-scale battles, with our protagonists and a bunch of unnamed or briefly-mentioned side characters facing off against beasts. The battles themselves are great - it's warriors with superhuman abilities against beasts with other weird abilities, so it's bound to be great. But this book also does something impressive: It makes these large-scale battles actually have consequences. Seri herself is rarely at risk of actually dying. But someone dies in every fight. And when they die, there are rites for the dead. There is grief and guilt and hurt. Even though we really don't have much doubt that the people we care about will survive, even the deaths of minor characters have profound effects on our protagonists, and that makes the danger feel real and ensures the fights never feel cheap. 

But after all of these great things, my absolute favorite thing is all the moral complexity in this story. At the beginning, everything is straightforward - the beasts kill people, so people need to defend against the beasts. But the more Seri learns about the beasts and Tsana's people, the more unclear everything becomes. Maybe the valiant aren't actually the good guys. There is eventually a single antagonist, but even there the morality isn't strictly black and white - he may be doing horrible things, but I can understand his reasoning. The main tension for Seri is trying to do the right thing when it's not clear what the right thing is, because for most of the book it's very unclear what is right. Neither "side" is truly good or evil. There's also a settler-colonization element that was good, if a little muddled. 

This review got long, but that's because there's so many great things to say about it. It was a thrilling, engrossing read with a vibrant world, good characters with great growth through the story, and some really awesome battles. And it has a happy ending - I love a dangerous, violent book with a happy ending for the primary characters. I'm very glad I gave it a chance, because it was completely worth it. 

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starrysteph's review

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adventurous hopeful lighthearted mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


I loved Dauntless; it felt like a breath of fresh air in the YA fantasy realm!
We follow Seri, who lives in a world defined by very clear rules. Dangerous magical beasts attack the people whenever they can, which is why they’ve made their homes in spreading trees. The brave valiant defend them with superhuman strength, thanks to the armor they make from the beasts’ skin and hearts. 
Seri has stayed safe in the “known world”, until one day she encounters a stranger from beyond her borders who can communicate with these beasts, challenging everything she’s ever known to be true. Now she’s faced with a new possibility: peace
One of the standout elements of Dauntless was world-building. Bonnin has created an incredibly vivid Filipino inspired world; I really felt like I was in a tropical jungle. The descriptions of the environment and the food and the culture were SO immersive. (Note: this book is pitched as a Filipino-inspired fantasy, but to the best of my knowledge this just means the world, not so much the mythology/events of the story).
The fantasy world was thoughtful; it’s fleshed out in a detailed way without feeling overwhelming.
There was a very strong focus on worldbuilding at the beginning - so the plot was gentle and slow at first but still found it quite engaging. She’s taking these delightfully creative concepts but storytelling with straightforward details: so younger readers can follow along easily.
An element I LOVED was the concept of valor armor: magical armor (taken from killed-in-battle beasts) which shifts and changes color and shape to adapt to the warrior’s body … and to reveal their inner self. It was so neat to see vivid writing & descriptions that reflected characters’ hearts and emotions.
And speaking of characters, there were 3 female POVs here … and I enjoyed all of them! Each character engaged with their strength in different ways; people could cry and grieve and be furious and this wasn’t dismissed at all. Seri in particular had a compelling journey around guilt and grief and learning to open up to others.
There were also some fun POV switches, when you immediately get corrected on information one character thought they had right. I think that’s such a fun way to utilize multiple points of view
There’s also a sapphic romance here between two of the main character POVs (Seri is a lesbian and Tsana is bi). The romance IS a subplot but it’s important and given some depth; it’s warm and earnest and sweet to watch. It does feel very YA at times - especially with the instant connection - but I appreciated the slower development of the relationship over the course of the book.
Also … there’s an animal companion component here, which might just be my favorite element in a fantasy book. I can’t talk about it too much without being spoilery, but OOO was it sweet. 
Finally, there’s a sweet open-ended - but happy - ending. I love standalone fantasy books. I can see that the door was left open for a follow up here, but everything was also concluded in a satisfying way
CW: murder, death, violence, animal cruelty (hunting & culling), animal death, gore, grief, death of a parent, physical abuse, emotional abuse, suicidal thoughts, classism, colonization, mental illness, fire, poverty, starvation

(I received an advance reader copy of this book; this is my honest review.)

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