Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Short and bowlegged with a snub nose, protruding chin and unfortunate tendency towards bad practical jokes, fourteen-year-old Halli Sveinsson is nobody’s idea of a hero. He loves to listen to the ancient tales of all-mighty Svein, the fearless founder of his House who never hesitated to settle a quarrel with cold steel and made the Valley safe by defeating and banishing the man-eating Trows to the windy moors. But that was long ago. Now the different Houses in the Valley settle disagreements by wielding lawsuits, not swords, and peace is maintained at any cost. As the second son of the House of Svein, Halli has little to do but twiddle his stubby thumbs and dream of adventure—until the arrogant Hakonsson family comes to call. Expecting hospitality from the House of Svein, the Hakonssons get food poisoning instead when fun-loving Halli dumps some dung into their ale. Incensed at having been made fools of, the Hakonssons retaliate with murder, an act that sends Halli on an odyssey of revenge. But unlike the warrior heroes of his favorite stories, Halli barely knows which end of a weapon is up and is soon in way over his head trying to bring honor back to his House. By relying on his wits and some unexpected help from the clever Lady Aud, Halli discovers that heroes are made, not born, and just because he doesn’t look the part doesn’t mean he isn’t fit to hold the sword. This is just a rousing, good old-fashioned Norse-flavored adventure tale, complete with an unlikely hero, a blood thirsty villain, a few terrifying monsters and an impossible quest. Author Jonathan Stroud, the hilarious voice of the canny Bartimaeus, inserts loads of his trademark humor here, even as he imparts a serious message about not putting too much stock in hero stories when our own adventures can be just as exciting. I quite enjoyed passing through Stroud’s Valley, and I think you will too!

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