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.)
Graphic: Animal cruelty, Gore, Animal death, Colonisation, Death of parent, Violence, Emotional abuse, Fire/Fire injury, Suicidal thoughts, Classism, Death, Grief, Mental illness, Murder, and Physical abuse