Heroes of the Valley

heroesofthevalley By Jonathan Stroud [LibraryThing]

Generations ago, Svein and the other great heroes fought back the Trows and made the valley safe for humans. Now there is peace and no need for heroes, which is a serious disappointment for Halli, younger son of the House of Svein. An adventurous misfit, he deals with his restlessness by playing practical jokes – until one of his jokes touches off a disastrous string of consequences. Now, with the help of the beautiful and fearless Aud, he must find his place and his purpose within the valley before his actions bring destruction down on them all.

Heroes of the Valley is a much more standard fantasy than Stroud’s previous books, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, with its medieval, Viking-esque setting and its misfit hero who longs for the adventurous days of yore. In fact, it’s a little too standard. One of the things I loved about Bartimaeus was how unusual it was, and Heroes is pretty by-the-book.

That’s not to say that it’s bad. Stroud is an excellent writer, and he puts across a standard fantasy novel well. Halli starts out fairly unlikable, and, as subsequent events humble and mature him, becomes an endearing if not terribly unique protagonist (although I do wish he’d displayed more of the mischievous nature that we were more told about than shown). The villains are properly threatening, and yet they are not particularly prominent in the book, which is surprising until you consider that the book is much more about Halli coming to terms with himself and his society than it is about him fighting any outside force. The minor characters, although tending to fall into Stroud’s “everyone is heartless and unsympathetic towards the hero” mold, were also well done.

Aud, for her part, reminded me of nothing so much as Eilonwy from The Chronicles of Prydain. She had the same fun-loving, fearlous outlook and the same acerbic lack of patience with the protagonist’s clumsy attempts at gallantry. Again, the usual tropes were trotted out: she defies society’s mores, her father’s trying to marry her off, the hero tries to keep her from the climatic battle and won’t admit that it’s because he loves her. I did like that she does what she wants throughout and is reasonably clever and capable, but I felt like I was waiting all book for her to sort of jump out at me with something notable, and she never really did.

I did enjoy the world building. The myths themselves were pretty standard, but the fact that the different Houses all insisted that their hero was the central figure in them was interesting and used to good effect, both for humor and inter-House tension. And the reveals at the very end were brilliant.

Still and all, Heroes of the Valley was basically a standard fantasy novel, solid and well-written, but nothing to write home about. Three and a half cupcakes.

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