Where Peace is Lost by Valerie Valdes fantasy and science fiction book reviewsWhere Peace is Lost by Valerie Valdes fantasy and science fiction book reviewsWhere Peace is Lost by Valerie Valdes

Where Peace is Lost by Valerie Valdes moves along smoothly and quickly, is peopled by engaging characters, and nods toward some serious themes of ethics, violence, and colonialism. I mostly enjoyed this fast read, though found myself wishing its themes were delved into more deeply.

The novel is set in a universe where the Pale Empire has been conquering/colonizing other planets or planetary systems/alliances. Some years back, one of their stiffest foes, whose military and altruistic institutions were known as “Orders”, signed a peace treaty and agreed to disband their military orders (led by “knights celestial”) and maintain only their assistance order. Since then the Empire has continued to expand. The narrower setting is on the planet Loth, which thanks to its lack of resources has managed to avoid being colonized fully by the Pale, who left some time ago but retain a small base on the planet. Now though, one of their deadliest war machines, a Demolisher, has been reactivated and is heading toward a number of populated areas.

The Pale say they don’t have the resources at the time to do anything about it, so the Loth are forced to turn to a pair of off-worlders — Savvy and Dare — who have learned of their situation and offered to deactivate the Demolisher for a relatively reasonable price. To ensure the strangers can travel quickly enough to the war machine, and also because the Loth are more than a little suspicious about the “luck” of two strangers showing up out of nowhere with a solution, they send two guides along with them: Lunna, a young native girl, and Kel, a refugee from the Empire’s wars who arrived on planet a few years ago and has kept to herself, though Lunna has tried to break down that isolation in the intervening years. To reach the machine they’ll have to deal with the planet’s animal dangers, bandits, the Pale themselves, and their own secrets and suspicions.

As mentioned, the book moves along smoothly and quickly, with the first half or so done in more episodic style as the four face off against various obstacles. The latter part is more focused into a single throughline of plot but has more than its share of battles and tense situations, with both the battles and the stakes becoming much bigger. There’s a lot of action, but it isn’t non-stop, with the action frequently paused for some quieter, more reflective moments of introspection from Kel or equally quiet scenes between two characters. Some of the plot trappings might seem a little familiar from other works, both books and other media, but that’s not unusual in genre (to say the least) and if it doesn’t all feel entirely fresh, nor does it feel derivative. Just familiar as noted.

Valerie Valdes

Valerie Valdes

Kel is a well-developed character. From the beginning, it’s obvious she’s keeping secrets about her past (a hidden sword, bad memories, concerns about drawing too much attention to herself), and most readers will probably predict the generalities of those secrets if not the specifics. Her fear of the truth about her coming out puts her into a series of ethical dilemmas, with the very first one being the question of if she should even join the mission. She knows she can help, she knows the stakes, but she fears the revelations that might ensue. She also fears other consequences, but I won’t detail those so as to avoid spoilers. Time and again Kel is forced therefore to weigh her obligation to others versus her obligation to herself, a calculation further complicated by how helping others may in the end bring more trouble upon them. More generally, she also wrestles with her long-embedded philosophy on when violence is justified or not, not just the moral or practical questions but also with regard to its impact on her state of mind/being. Finally, her last interior battle is whether or not she can overcome her years of forced isolation and allow herself to open up to the possibility of friendship or possible even more than that (the potential romance was for me one of the weak points here: moving too quickly as they almost always do, feeling a bit forced as they nearly almost do, and not feeling particularly plausible in the surrounding context, as they nearly always do. YMMV).

The other characters are engaging as mentioned earlier, but not as fully developed, though three of the four change at least as little as they learn more about themselves or about the larger world. Lunna and Savvy in particular are relatively thinly constructed. Lunna is your typical young, overly energetic naïf who is bound to lose that innocence at some point to some extent. Savvy is your flirty-on-the-outside-mysteriously-secretive-on-the-inside character that leaves the main character unsure of whether to trust them or not. Dare, for reasons I again won’t detail so as to avoid spoilers, is more complex, but not much more. The thinness of characterization doesn’t so much detract from the novel as create a sense of missed opportunity.

The same I’d say holds true for the thematic explorations. I appreciate the serious, substantive questions raised in the novel: the aforementioned question about when violence is justified (if ever), about the obligations one has to help others (the refugee question is particularly topical), the lingering traumatic effects of war, the benefits and limits of restorative justice, environmentalism. But I confess to being disappointed in how deeply these were explored. Some were only briefly mentioned, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing much more exploration of how the populations’ belief that  their planet itself has rights or how their views on restorative justice played out. And while the other questions of violence and trauma are much more prevalent, they seemed to mostly skate along the surface of those questions or handle them a little too easily (“glibly” would be too harsh), leaving me feeling a bit frustrated and unsatisfied, again more in a “bummer, this feels like a missed opportunity” mode than a “I’m not enjoying this story” mode.

In the end, I did enjoy Where Peace is Lost. While it stands wholly on its own, it also leaves clear room to continue with these characters, and I’d be happy to pick up a sequel if one is to come. And while I’m giving it 3.5 stars, I’d also say that while I wouldn’t label it YA, my guess is a YA reader will enjoy it more along a 4 or possibly even 4.5 level. Something to keep in my mind if you’re considering a gift or are in that demographic yourself.

Published in August 2023. Five years ago, Kelana Gardavros lost everything in the war against the Pale empire. Now Kel Garda is just another refugee living on the edge of an isolated star system. No one knows she was once a member of an Order whose military arm was disbanded and scattered across the galaxy. And no one knows that if her enemies found her, they might destroy the entire world to get rid of her. Where peace is broken, may we mend it. Kel’s past intrudes in the form of a long-dormant Pale war machine, suddenly reactivated. If the massive automaton isn’t stopped, at best it will carve a swath of devastation that displaces thousands of people. At worst, it will kill every sentient creature on the planet. Where we go, may peace follow. When two strangers offer to deactivate the machine for a price, Kel and a young friend agree to serve as their guides. The journey through swamps infested with predators and bandits is bad enough, but can they survive more nefarious dangers along the way? And will Kel’s fear of revealing her secrets doom the very people she’s trying to protect? Where we fall, may peace rise.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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