Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud)

Heroes of the Valley
Jonathan Stroud
Disney Hyperion
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In ancient times, the great hero Svien came to the valley as a babe; strangling a serpent with his bare hands, it was clear he was destined to become a hero. He fought many a monster, squabbled with many a man, and - at the end - joined forces with 11 other mighty heroes to destroy the foul, tunneling Trows. Upon his death, he was laid to rest in a cairn, sword in hand, to defend the valley forevermore.
Halli, born to the House Svien, never fit in with his family. Bandy-legged, short, and homely, full of restless energy, he chafes at the sedate life of the peaceable household. He dreams of being an elder-day hero - but, in these times, blood-feuds have yielded to dull laws, with rivalries settled by marriage more often than murder. Only his uncle, another family outcast, seems to understand... but even that small solace is stolen from him when a drunken insult spirals out of hand at a Gathering. Witnessing his uncle's murder at the hands of House Hakon, the boy's anger knows no bounds. Unsatisfied with the prospects offered by the laws of the valley, Halli determines to settle the score as Svien himself would have done... no matter what the consequences.

REVIEW: Many tales, especially Young Adult tales, tell of heroism in its many forms. Few explore its meanings and complexities as Stroud does here. Halli starts off, frankly, as a bit of a brat, selfish and short-sighted. His emotions rule him, as do his dreams based on elder-day tales of daring and bravery and brutal justice - dreams that cannot work in the real world. Slowly, through many mishaps and harsh lessons that return to haunt him, he learns the truth about the heroes and the stories he so long held dear. Along the way, he learns just what it means to become a real hero, not just a tale-teller's grandiose vision of one. The story drug now and again, taking its time setting up Halli and his world. Once it starts moving, it takes some unexpected turns on its way to a fitting finale. An enjoyable tale!

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