Welcome back to the Know Me Betterman blog series, which features various fascinating people I know talking about the books they love. (Forgot what Know Me Betterman is? Click here.) This week I'm thrilled to be hosting my good friend Chelsea DeTorres, a fellow Simmons alum and one of the only people in the world who may love fairy tales as much as I do.
My name is Chelsea DeTorres. My name is also Valiant by Holly Black. But, no, I’ve never walked in on my mother and my boyfriend making out. And no, I’ve never lived in a subway tunnel, half-blind and delivering mysterious packages, while my brother gets strung out. And no, I’ve never been exiled from my home, my family, everything I knew and then, to add insult to injury, or rather injury to injury, had my heart taken out of my chest.
Yet, I am Valiant. Growing up, I always thought of myself as brave, as heroic, as adventurous. I climbed trees with boughs that threatened to break. I jumped into dark swimming holes filled with snapping turtles, snakes, and slime. Worst of all, though, I read. I read books about sword-fights and magic, villains and the grey area, gore and romance. (And if you haven’t realized by now, I read a lot about the rule of three.) “Sometimes you wind up doing a lot of crazy stuff that you can’t believe you did” (Black 107). I thought that when the time came, I would know what to do; that when I had that final real, heroic moment, I would react exactly like the best heroines and my sword would be true.
I didn’t have a sword.
I had a tiny voice in the back of my head: Coward, it insisted, face reality. The real world wasn’t filled with such things as magic or fairies. Normal people didn’t get to learn archery with hand-carved wooden bows or sword-fighting. (No. I don’t mean fencing. Nothing against it, but I wanted a broadsword.) And worst of all, there was the fear. Would I, could I, really make the right decision when the time came?
Then, Valiant crashed into my life. I didn’t want to read it. I got dragged into reading the first Holly Black book in the series, Tithe, because it was about fairies and I always try books with that kind of magic. It was a good book, a solid one for my shelves, but compared to Valiant? Not even close. Valiant was the first book to ever get me.
If you’ve never read the book, I’m not going to ruin it, which may be harder than I realize in a post about the book. Essentially, Valiant was who I wanted to be, who I thought I was, the mirror of my world without fear.
The main character runs away – I never made it past the end of our mile-long driveway – to the city after being betrayed by her loved ones.
She shaved her head – I can’t bear my hair to be short (but yet…I’ve always want to shave it all off.)
Val, our main character, does drugs. Not real drugs. Magic drugs. Even more delicious? Glamour magic drugs, which may mean something to you fantasy readers. (I’ve never even tried anything halfway illegal, even during those rebellious teen years.) “Your veins are drinking down the magic…Now you can make anything happen” (97). How would it feel to actually have some power like that? If magic were real…
She falls in love with someone who is not someone she can bring home to her mother, but has a heart of gold – I fell in love with someone who should never have been brought home to my mother (a different more heart-breaking story).
Her love interest teaches her to sword-fight and she finds herself thinking of fantasy video-games in order to accept what is going on in her life. That would be me (if I was brave enough). Yet, Val didn’t live solely in my mirror world. Val had the same issue I did when it came to the actual battle: “Akara didn’t slow down when she got hurt, didn’t stumble, scream or faint. Val did all those things” (155). Val knew my pain.
By now, it may seem I just identify with the main character, but it was more than that. I’ve always loved the darker fairy tales, the ones where someone gets hurt or eaten or taken or worse. (I love the worse.) Even better? When no one believes what is happening. One of the characters is blinded by an evil fairy just because he can seem them. “And do you know what [my mother]…decide[s]? That I scratched my own fucking eye somehow. That I ran into something. That I blinded myself” (147). When you love words and stories like I do, you run into the problem of not being believed. Have you ever been told your memory was wrong? Do you know what it’s like to stand on beliefs that others insisted were false? Valiant did, its fairies did, Luis, half-blind Luis did.
“People don’t cry when they’re sad….People cry when they’re frustrated or overwhelmed” (237). Bad shit happens and it sucks and you have to keep moving but sometimes all you can do is cry. Valiant allowed for that.
Valiant saw into me as I turned the pages. It recognized my troubles with hero-dom, my darkest desires, and spoke directly to that courageous person I wished to be: “I will make you as terrible as you desire….nothing can stop you from being terrible once you’ve learned how” (179). I often say I’m a happy person. And I am! I laugh more than I should and grin like mad when I’m stressed, but there’s still a fear in the back, black blood of my heart, a fear of the world and I wish I could own some of it, carve a terrible space for myself somewhere.
Valiant is me: my dreams, my fears, the people I wish I could speak to, the adventures I wish I had, but at the end of all of it, Valiant still has the heart of the hope I still harbor: “You carried my heart in your hands tonight…But I have felt as if you carried it long before that” (307). I’m a romantic, fairy tales, and gore, and magic and all and I still believe in that happy ending. After everything I struggle with, I still believe in hope. Valiant does. Even if it’s “gone in one faerie sigh,” I can wait for my happy ending. “I can hold my breath” (313).
Chelsea DeTorres lives in the business-type world of standardized test prep during the day, but by night, she drinks tremendous amounts of hot chocolate whilst fighting demons who attempt to steal her keyboard keys. Sometimes, coherent stories result and sometimes, things coconut. Her dream is to one day sneak into a bookstore wearing a dashing fedora, sunglasses and a trench coat, find a book with her listed as the author and sign it secretly. Of course, a publishing deal in the future may help with that. In the meantime, she reads stacks of Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, and various other fantasy novels. Her cats, Goblin and Pixie, appreciate books in the edible sense more. Chelsea had a wonderful time writing this post and hopes it will inspire her to keep pursuing her writing dreams. The end.