I am happy to introduce R.H. Russell, author of Venture Untamed, which I am reviewing today, and its sequel Venture Unleashed. Russell has eighteen years of training in judo and other martial arts, and that experience really shows in the fighting scenes. Venture Untamed is marketed as YA fantasy, probably because of Venture’s age (twelve when the story begins), but it felt like more of an adult fantasy to me, perhaps because the writing was so mature. Venture Delving, whose parents are dead and has only an older brother for family, is bonded to Grant Fieldstone, a successful land owner and farmer, and must serve his household until he turns nineteen and becomes a free man. Fieldstone is a fair man and lets Venture study with his daughter, Jade, who is his best friend, but Venture has a temper and trouble seems to follow him. After getting into a serious fight defending Jade’s honor, Venture is given one last chance to stay with Grant Fieldstone: he must train in the art of fighting at Beamer’s, the local training center for boys.
There Venture comes into his own as a fighter, making friends at the center, but enemies as well. Most of the boys there have one goal: to be allowed to participate in the Quarter Championship and earn a spot in the Champion’s Center, where a fighter can train to be Champion of All Richland. Although Venture’s dream is to acquire this title someday, something is standing in the way: his own brother, Justice, will never allow him to fight professionally because of a terrible family secret. In order to convince Justice to let him go, he argues that by leaving the Fieldstone household, he will be distancing himself from the temptation of being with Jade, whom he loves but will never be allowed to marry. Eventually Venture succeeds and is on his way to the Youth Quarter Championship.
I found one of the strengths of Venture Untamed, and there are many, to be the powerful fighting scenes. Normally I wouldn’t choose to read a book about hand-to-hand combat, but Venture is such a headstrong and earnest character that I was rooting for him from the beginning, when he was a scrawny orphan, to his teen years as a young man who is determined to rise above his station in life. The fight scenes themselves were emotionally packed, and I could almost feel the sweat and blood running down the faces of the fighters. Venture is beaten down many times, but he always gets back on his feet and tries to improve his fighting skills with every loss.
The class system Russell has created is very effective and allows for lots of tension between Venture and his best friend Jade, a delightful and scrappy girl who sticks up for Venture and thumbs her nose at the “cresteds,” the members of the elite class. While Venture is little more than a slave, Jade is expected to marry a crested someday, although she only wants to be with Venture, the boy she has known most of her life. Their relationship is heartbreaking at times, as everyone in their lives conspires to keep them apart. Although Russell sends Venture off to the Champion’s Center without resolving things with Jade, the stage is nicely set for the sequel which is, luckily for us, already available. For believable characters, strong world-building, and a story with emotional impact, Venture Untamed is highly recommended.
Many thanks to R.H. Russell for supplying a review copy of Venture Untamed.