Thursday, May 14, 2009

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Halli has grown up with the legends of the great hero Sveinn, his ancestor. Long ago, Sveinn led the other heroes to defeat the Trows, beasts who emerged from underground at night to devour humans. Thanks to him, the Trows stay out of the valley, which is still protected by the graves of the heroes and all their descendants, but there is no safety beyond the line of cairns. Anyone who leaves the valley will be devoured.  In the valley, there is peace - swords have been outlawed, and any disputes between the families are settled by the Council. Crimes are punished with the transfer of land between the families.

A born troublemaker, Halli wishes he had lived in the time of the warlike heroes. When his beloved uncle is murdered before his eyes, Halli wants more than land for his family to repair the breach - he wants revenge. He sets off on his own to become a hero and finds that it isn't nearly so easy as Sveinn made it look - and that even Sveinn wasn't all he was cracked up to be.

This was a great book.  It has a lot of funny moments, the tiniest hint of romance (but nothing that would turn off boys who still think girls have cooties), and a lot of character development.  The stories of Sveinn that preface chapters give insight into the culture and Halli's mentality. Halli himself is a great character - you can see his flaws, but that doesn't stop you from admiring his cleverness and eventually, his nobility. This would be a great choice for readers of historical fiction (it feels very medieval) or fantasy - but be warned that it does get a bit scary and somewhat gruesome toward the end.

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