Heroes of the Valley, by Jonathan Stroud

For my money, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy was the best young adult fantasy series of the past decade. Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass was better than any individual book in Stroud’s series, but the rest of the His Dark Materials trilogy was a serious letdown, and I found the entire second half of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to be hit or miss. Stroud’s newest book, the Icelandic saga-inspired novel Heroes of the Valley, is very different from the Bartimaeus books—but, happily, just as awesome.

Fourteen-year-old Halli Sveinsson, second son of the House of Svein, has grown up listening to stories about his famous ancestor, a man whose superhuman strength and courage drove the monsters from the Valley and created the safe, law-abiding world Halli has known all his life. Halli might idolize his forebear, but he has zero interest in safety or laws. His quick temper and fondness for pranks keep him in constant disgrace, and when he plays a trick on the heir to the powerful House of Hakonsson, he sets in motion a chain of events that lead to his uncle’s murder. Determined to exact a suitably dramatic revenge, Halli sets out on a quest... but he soon discovers that the legendary behavior he has dreamed of all his life plays out very differently in the real world.

Heroes of the Valley offers a nearly perfect balance of action and character development. Halli’s transformation from bored, obnoxious child to redoubtable young adult happens slowly enough to be plausible, but briskly enough to hold readers’ interest. Meanwhile, Stroud dusts his story with sufficient humor to offset its creepier moments, but not so much that anyone loses sight of the grimness of Halli’s adventures—and for every joke, there’s a reminder that this is an author who has already proven himself willing to off a main character.

Stroud has said that Heroes of the Valley will be a standalone novel. Half of me was sorry to learn that this is the last we’ll see of these characters*, but the rest was delighted to read a totally complete story. (Standalone titles are rare beasts in the epic fantasy world.) I’d be happy to read a sequel, of course, but I’m equally eager to see where Stroud’s vivid imagination will take us next.

*Fanfic authors take note: I’m looking to you to make this right, okay?
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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