Heroes of the Valley
Fourteen-year-old Halli Sveinsson is the second son and third child of the Arbiter of the House of Svein. His future appears bleak and boring, stuck with toiling in the fields for his brother, the future leader of their House. Halli has never traveled beyond the Svein lands, but he knows that the House of Svein is one of 12 Houses in the Valley and that everybody now lives in safety and peace thanks to their heroic ancestors. Weapons are forbidden, and a council decides the punishments of those who break the law.
Halli loves to listen to the old tales of the ancestors, especially his own ancestor, Svein. Svein is the bravest of them all, the one who joined the Houses together to chase the monstrous Trows out of the Valley. Trows, who have sharp teeth and long claws, live underground and come out at night to hunt humans. But Svein and the other House ancestors pushed the Trows back, and Trows are now forbidden to enter the Valley. And even though no one alive today has seen a Trow, everybody knows never to cross the boundary, especially at night, or face a certain and horrible death.
Since the ancient heroes have made the Valley so safe and peaceful, young Halli is bored with his life. He compensates by playing practical jokes on everyone. One joke goes too far, however, and he is banned from participating in the big festival, hosted this year by his own House. So it’s by accident that he meets Aud in the orchards. Aud is the daughter of another House leader and is unlike anyone Halli has ever met. She is spirited and adventurous, and dreads the day her father will marry her off to a stranger. Halli looks forward to seeing this intriguing girl again someday.
But by the end of the festival, Halli pulls another prank that leads to someone wronging his uncle. Thus, he sets out on a quest of revenge and in the process helps to open up old grudges, bringing war back to the Valley. He doesn’t realize the adventure and danger that await him. Does Halli have it in him to be a hero, like the ancestor he so admires?
In his first novel since the Bartimaeus Trilogy, Jonathan Stroud brings us another winning adventure story, complete with an unexpected hero, a spirited sidekick, bone-chilling monsters, and a thrilling, soul-searching journey. Stroud has a gift with impeccable timing and a captivating rhythm, a flow that takes a hold of the reader on page one and never lets go. His colorful characters will charm, amuse and intrigue --- some adding an element of evil, others contributing a splash of humor. Halli, the unexpected hero, is especially charming; he will appeal to all with his physical shortcomings, good heart and thirst for adventure.
Stroud has done it again. Each page in HEROES OF THE VALLEY is filled with excitement and thrills, and we can only hope that the wait won’t be long for his next amazing tale.
Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on January 27, 2009