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!
Dauntless 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?
There are 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 with Merry.
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.
Political 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.
There is also some ethical wrestling, as the Ghosts struggle with wanting to please God, yet resorting to theft to meet their needs.
The 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.
Dina 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.