"Heroes of the Valley" by Jonathan Stroud

The moment I first laid eyes on Heroes of the Valley, I wanted to read it. The first thing I noticed was the big, splashy blurb from Rick Riordan on the cover. That, combined with the summary on the back, made me think I was in for Vikings and Norse Mythology...Percy Jackson Style. Next, I realized that the author was Jonathan Stroud author of The Bartimaeus Trilogy. I've heard nothing but good things about the trilogy and bought bargain-priced hardcovers around Christmas last year, but have never gotten around to reading them (though as of now, I've finished the first one and started the second). I was going to order a hard copy to match my other books by him, but changed my mind when I saw that there was an autographed plate inside. All of this, combined with the fact that all four copies were sold the day they came in (I should know; I shelved them myself) convinced me to buy this book and read it right away.

That being said, the book wasn't what I was expecting at all. I don't mean that in a bad way, either. I just had my own idea of what the book would be about. I actually like the fact that Stroud placed his characters in their own time period and not present-day better than my initial assumption. I love the fact that the beginning of each chapter starts with a tale about the hero Svein. This addition allowed the text to feel more like a traditional folktale from the days of old.

The novel takes place during the time of the Vikings (I kept envisioning the sets/costumes/hair styles from the movie How to Train Your Dragon when reading this novel). As the novel opens, we learn the tale about twelve brave men who heroically died fighting to save their homeland from the evil Trows. The men become heroes and their bodies are buried in the valley to keep the Trows away. The descendents of each hero come from twelve different houses. Our protagonist, Halli Sveinsson, is related to the mighty Svein himself. Halli is a mischievous boy and constantly in trouble for playing pranks on people. One day, he goes too far and sets off a chain of events that will cause him to set off on a journey to the other houses as the truth about everything he thought he knew completely turns inside out.

The book starts off slow, but maintains a lush form of storytelling that allows the reader to overlook this. Once it picked up, the book was hard to put down, especially once invested in Halli's plight. Even so, the final climax introduced a new plotline that seemed out of sync with the rest of the work and changed the entire tone of the novel. I never saw it coming and wish the climax had been handled differently. The novel ends on a note where it can stand alone but can also be revisited if Stroud chooses to do so in the future. If he does, it would be interesting to see him deal with the aftermath of the first novel's climax so that it doesn't seem so out there.

If I had to choose, I'd say that I like Stroud's Bartimaeus work better, but I've only read the first of the trilogy to date and can't speak for the remaining two novels. At the same time, it's not fair to compare the two because the tone of each novel is so vastly different. I do love the concepts introduced in Heroes of the Valley and admire the style that set's the novel's tone, but the climax and slow start prevented me from enjoying the novel as much as I originally thought I would.