Left suddenly penniless, the Honorable Sophia Grafton, a viscount’s orphaned daughter, sails to the New World to claim the only property left to her name: a tobacco plantation in the remote wilds of colonial Virginia. Enlisting the reluctant assistance of a handsome young French spy—at gunpoint— she gathers an unlikely group of escaped slaves and indentured servants, each seeking their own safe haven in the untamed New World.
What follows will test her courage and that of her companions as they struggle to survive a journey deep into a hostile wilderness and eventually forge a community of homesteads and deep bonds that will unite them for generations.
The first installment in an epic historical trilogy by Helen Bryan, the bestselling author of War Brides and The Sisterhood, The Valley is a sweeping, unforgettable tale of hardship, tenacity, love, and heartache.
SERIES: The Valley Trilogy #1
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHER: Lake Union Publishing
RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2016
When I read the back cover blurb for The Valley, I was intrigued. When I found out that the book & series are based on the author’s family history, I was even more intrigued. And then I received the book in the mail – and while the official page count might be 606, my advance reader’s copy weighs in at a lofty 643. At that point, I was intrigued and more than a wee bit intimidated lol.
The first 100 or so pages could have been summarized a great deal more succinctly, in my opinion. The information found here was, I felt, largely superfluous or better suited for a prequel novel. Mostly narrative with precious little dialogue, these first several chapters set an unfortunately tedious tone for the book right from the beginning. When the narrative does finally make way for some dialogue, it’s really more of a monologue. Page upon page of narrative disguised as monologue. So… really … still narrative. Eventually, as more characters than just Sophia enter the book’s landscape, dialogue does actually take more of a solid hold and occasionally fights it way through the narrative to give us a brief respite.
Additionally, the part of the book that intrigued me – the part described in the back cover blurb seen above – doesn’t start until 230 or so pages in to the novel. At that point, I started to find the story interesting and became invested in the rather ragtag band of characters that were forging their way across Virginia to find Sophia’s valley. The hardships they faced, the dangers that waited for them around every turn – all of this made me appreciate even more those that have gone before me to make it possible for me to live in relative comfort today. I can’t even imagine the horrors of an Indian raid or starvation or childbirth in the middle of the wilderness.
However, a couple of hundred pages later, new characters start popping in and out of the story. I found it difficult to keep up with them at that point, mainly because I’m already that many pages in and feel like we should be winding the story down, not continuing to add new facets to it. On top of that, there is an abrupt switch of character perspective in the last ~50 pages that threw me off and honestly just tamped out my lingering interest in what happened next.
Still… The Valley often reminded me of a colonial Gone With The Wind, and I didn’t especially care for GWTW. Sophia could give Scarlett O’Hara a run for her money yet during one scene in particular I fully expected Sophia to be the one to say that she didn’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies. So, take my opinion of The Valley with a grain of salt because if you loved GWTW you will probably also enjoy this first book in Helen Bryan’s epic saga.
Bottom Line: The Valley is an epic novel to be sure. However, it’s not exactly the novel it advertises itself to be. Long stretches of narrative, most of which could be summed up in far fewer pages, bogs The Valley down in unnecessary tedium and superfluous detail. The main cast of characters proves compelling, though I wish more time had been spent here in development. New characters popping into the story at odd intervals disrupts what flow the story has achieved, and the only real plot resolves a good 200 pages (at least) before the novel does. Of the 600-plus pages, I really enjoyed the chunk in the middle and I feel that – if this had been the entirety of the novel – I would give it a much higher rating. If you are a fan of sweeping epic sagas, then you will probably enjoy The Valley in all of its epic glory, not just the middle third that I found the most engaging.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
My Rating: 3 stars
Helen Bryan is a Virginia native who grew up in Tennessee. After graduating from Barnard College, she moved to England, where she studied law and was a barrister for ten years before devoting herself to writing full-time.
A member of the Inner Temple, Bryan is the author of four previous books: the World War II novel War Brides; the historical novel The Sisterhood; the biography Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty, which won an Award of Merit from the Colonial Dames of America; and the legal handbook Planning Applications and Appeals. The Valley is the first in a planned trilogy based on her childhood stories of ancestors who settled in Virginia and Maryland before Tennessee became a state.
Bryan resides in London with her family.
Other Books by Helen Bryan
TLC Book Tours and Lake Union Publishing are providing a copy of The Valley by Helen Bryan to one of my readers! I know that several of my readers do in fact enjoy books like Gone With the Wind and therefore you will enjoy The Valley more than I did! This is your chance to find out for yourself, rather than just taking my word for it. 🙂
The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and notified by email. If I don’t hear from you within a week, I will select another winner.
What about you? What’s your favorite epic novel?