Jonathan Stroud – Heroes of the Valley
4. Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud (2009)
This book will be published in the U.S. on 27 January 2009; pre-order your copy here.
Length: 483 pages
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Started: 07 January 2009
Finished: 12 January 2009
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 Jan 2009
Swords? Courage? Great deeds?
Halli learns what it means to
be a real hero.
Many thanks to Hallie Patterson at Disney Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review!
Summary: Halli Sveinsson has spent his whole life hearing tales of the Heroes, the men who chased the Trows (subterranean man-eating beasts with giant claws) from the valley, giants among men, and none more so than Svein, the Founder of his own House. Halli, a second son, longs for adventure, but is about as far from the heroes of yore as you can get: short, squat, stumpy-legged. Anyways, adventure is hard to find in the valley, where arbitration rules over any conflict, and swords are outlawed… and none dare venture past the cairns that guard the valley, for to do so would mean to set foot onto Trow-lands, and thus a certain and painful death.
And so Halli lives discontented, stuck within the boundaries of Svein’s lands, with nothing to do but play pranks on his kith and kin. However, at a gathering of all of the Houses, one of Halli’s pranks goes too far, and rekindles an old feud which threatens the peaceful life in the valley… and forces Halli to try his hand at being a hero, and to face up to the old legends – however much truth they may or may not hold.
Review: Jonathan Stroud’s probably best known for The Bartimaeus Trilogy, which I really enjoyed, in part because they rejected the normal confines of what YA fantasy was, and instead built a world entirely of their own, a world grounded in the traditional roots but branching out into a place unlike any other fantasy I’d read. Stroud repeats that feat with Heroes of the Valley – it’s a little more traditional (it does prominently feature a hero’s quest, after all), but its themes and setting are an interesting change from the standard fantasy fare. Most medieval fantasy is drawn from a British/Western Europe medieval background, while Heroes of the Valley has a decidedly Scandanavian feel to it. And while the idea of confronting the truth of the myths and legends of the past is hardly original to Stroud (indeed, it’s an essential element of pretty much any coming-of-age story), his treatment of it here makes it feel fresh.
Technically, I thought the writing was great, but the pacing could use some work. Stroud’s great with humor – the snippets of the old legends that head each chapter frequently made me chuckle, and there’s definitely a hint of Bartimaeus’s snarky cynicism that peeks out between the lines. He’s equally good with action, however, and can write suspenseful and creepy with flair… I found myself literally shivering during some of the descriptions of the Trows, which I don’t think has ever happened before with a YA novel.
“Their [the Trows’] tunnels honeycombed the fields and went under the farmers’ doors. … To begin with, the people of each House paved their farms with heavy granite slabs – hall, stable, yards, and all, so that the Trows could not break through – and they circled the buildings with high stone walls, and posted guards upon them. This improved matters. But at night the fingers of the Trows could still be heard tap-tap-tapping below the floor stones, searching for weaknesses.”
Shivery, no? Yeesh.
This book was a bit of a slow starter for me, however. While the beginning is not uninteresting, it does spend a long time introducing the characters and world. Things don’t get started until about page 100, and they don’t really get going until almost the halfway point. After that point, however, the action moves at a quick pace, and the last hundred and fifty pages practically flew by. Overall verdict: Not quite a slam-dunk, due to the pacing problems, but thoroughly enjoyable, and an interesting change of pace from a lot of the other fantasy out there. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Fans of Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy should definitely check this one out, as should fantasy fans of both sexes (and all ages – if they can handle the length and the creepiness, they should be able to handle the plot and the writing level) who are looking for a not-too-serious read that’s a bit off the beaten path.
Links: Book Website
Other Reviews: If you’ve read and reviewed this, leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it here.
First Line: Listen then, and I’ll tell you again of the Battle of the Rock.
**All quotes are from an uncorrected proof copy and may not reflect the final published version of the text.
|U.K. Hardback Cover||U.S. Hardback Cover|
I can’t decide which one I like best… I love the giant grasping claws, but the rest of the treatment feels too much like a movie poster. On the other hand, I like how the U.S. cover looks almost like a woodcut, but the scene it depicts doesn’t quite capture the feeling of the book particularly well, I think. It’s a close call, but since I went with the U.K. version for the top of the page, I guess that’s the one I prefer. What say you, readers?