Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Grab your horned helmets and wooden shields! We’re diving into a Viking fantasy this time.

Halli lives in a valley founded by 12 Heroes long ago who fought monsters, called Trows, for mastery of the land. As the second son in his family, he’s a bit of a prankster, seeking attention from a village that would rather see him remain quiet and out of the way than have fun. But when his uncle is murdered by the arbiter of another house, Halli embarks on a quest, seeking revenge for his fallen kin. Along the way he begins to question his family’s history, the legends of the Trows, and his feelings for a young girl named Aud.

I had high hopes for this book. Really, I did. After seeing “How to Train Your Dragon” in theaters this last spring, Viking stories have made it onto my list of things to explore. But this book was probably not the best story to start with, for multiple reasons.

Heroes of the Valley gets off to a slow start. For the first 75 pages or so, the events that take place and background information provided (mostly about Halli’s history with his family) have little—if any—importance to the actual plot. Eventually, things picked up around page 200 or so. But Halli himself was just a boring character. I found him unsympathetic and without much drive to do anything (except complain) until his uncle is killed, and even then I didn’t believe he was genuinely interested in regaining his family’s honor. The beginning of the book insisted on how witty Halli was but I had difficulty believing this as he made page after page of untactful and stupid choices. Not to mention that his dialogue was staler than a piece of dry flat bread. Sure, he had a few funny lines, but still lacked the charisma that you would expect an insisted “prankster” to have. I think this was partially due to his perfect grammar—for a fifteen year old kid, the guy spoke like an experienced noble, using diction beyond the intelligence of a Viking teenager. Really, it was the female lead, Aud, who had the personality he should have had. She was forward, charismatic, intelligent, attractive, brave, ect., and I was sad to see that she didn’t show up more. Stroud placed her in this story to be the love interest, but for those of you seeking romance, you’ll be disappointed by the end. Though it’s clear that Aud and Halli like each other, it’s never clear what happens to the two of them.

The beginning of the novel leads you to believe that the focus of Halli’s adventure will lead him to an epic battle with the Trows (just the ancestors of the 12 houses did), due to the emphasis on them throughout the story. (Trows are creatures of the earth that come out at night and eat people. They’re never really described, except that they are human like, have sharp claws, and smell like dirt) However, instead, the ending focuses on the dying relationship between the houses, rather than the union of them against a common enemy. Though I thought the ending was cut too short, I enjoyed Halli’s display of maturity in the end and his rise to become a hero. I would say that the story is an exploration in what makes a hero - how a legend it born, how it gets distorted and dies, and how a new legend can arise when seeking the truth - rather than your typical adventure story.

Final Rating: 4/8 tentacles