Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Heroes of the ValleyI’ve always been a sucker for any book about the Vikings, fiction or nonfiction. From the D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths in elementary school, to Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls series last year, everything has fascinated me—the culture is so seemingly similar to ours, but so alien. (To anyone familiar with the Greek and Roman gods, the Norse gods will seem incredibly bizarre). All of the books I’ve read, though, mythological aspects notwithstanding, have been set in the real historical world—England, Norway, Iceland. The places were all real.

Jonathan Stroud’s Heroes of the Valley, though it pushes all of the Norse buttons (names, architecture, customs), is set in a world that might be entirely fantasy. Helgi Sveinsson lives in a valley peopled by twelve families, each descended from 12 mighty warriors who died defending the settlement from the evil Trows. No one ever leaves the valley (because of the Trows), and no one ever deviates from the customs of the country—Helgi’s mother is the law-giver of his family, and no one goes against her word.

When Helgi—looked down upon because of his abrasive personality, and his physical resemblance to his dodgy uncle—plays a practical joke that puts his entire family in danger, he begins a journey that not only takes him away from his family, but out of the valley entirely. The story that unfolds is gripping and entirely original, and the characters are believable in their individuality and growth (Helgi never miraculously develops matinee idol looks [something which readers of other novels might be led to believe happens to most normal/homely boys when they grow up], and he never becomes sweet-tempered, but he DOES mature and come to understand the motivations of the people around him). The book isn’t specifically delineated as the first book in a series, and the ending, while not definitively a full-stop, does seem to wrap up all the loose ends. Too bad—I’d love to learn more about the world, and explore it with the same—or new—characters.

Posted by: Sarah

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