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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Heroes of the Valley" by Jonathan Stroud (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Jonathan Stroud, most famously known for his best selling Bartimaeus Trilogy, takes a different approach with a young adult stand alone novel, Heroes of the Valley. A coming of age story that reveals what courage and bravery really are all about when compared to the stories of the great heroes.

Halli Sveinsson, the second son of a the great Svein family line and very short in stature, has grown up hearing tales of the great heroes of the valley. These stories involve acts of bravery, great feats and many adventures that have lead to the society that Halli lives in to become what it is today.

While the stories of old are filled with violence and fighting, the modern day society is that of peace and mutual agreements between all of the surrounding families. However, Halli seems to not fit in with what is considered the norm for how he should be acting. He loves to play the occasional practical joke on people, and often wonders why disputes between people can't just readily be resolved with swords and fighting. This attitude often ends up with plenty of punishments and leaving Halli to be considered an outcast of the family.

The Sveinsson family has been chosen to host a prestigious festival that attracts people from all over the countryside, including those that are from the higher ranking families. It is during this festival that Halli plays what he considers to be the ultimate practical joke on the son of the most powerful family. The direct results from this joke are sever, even deadly.

Halli then turns around and sets out on a mission to right the wrong that he has caused. He runs into hurdles everywhere he turns and even gets a chance to question the long standing belief of the people of the land.

There are several aspects that made Heroes of the Valley a disappointing read: the characters, the flow of the book, and the ending. While readers may be coming into the reading experience, excepting another Bartimaeus Trilogy, I feel this stand alone novel falls very short of any of those expectations.

First, the characterization of the people involved with the story. While there are many different characters, the mother, the father, the sister and brother, along with others outside of the family (A nurse, and others involved with other families) every character seems to be portrayed as very one sided and almost predictable. For example the father is very stern and concerned with the reputation of the family. Never once during the story are readers given even a slight view of another side of this character. This aspect makes it hard to relate to any characters involved in the plot line.

Another downfall of the characterization is that of the main character, Halli. A lot of time, almost too much time, is spent building up how different Halli is from others. There is an abundant of descriptions relating how short Halli is, or how odd looking he is. This portrayal of Halli continued all the way to the end of the book, and made relating to him from a reader stand point very hard. While it was nice to have a main character that isn't the tall, dark and handsome or soon to be prince charming, the focus seemed to be on how unlikeable Halli can be made and there wasn't much to form a bond with readers on.

Second, the flow of the book. The beginning of this book is very slow moving. The first 200 pages could easily have been cut down to a lot less. This goes hand in hand with the characterization, because if Stroud hadn't taken so much time to show readers how "different" Halli was to others, maybe the book would have speed up a little. Considering the novel is a stand alone novel, the lack of action and speed in the book made it hard to muddle through until the end.

The set up for Heroes of the Valley is unique in that every chapter has a short story that looks back on the heroes of the past. While it was interesting and gave a look at to the "real" story behind the fables the characters seemed to follow, it did seem to drag the story down a little. As the book is also set up into parts, it might have flowed a little better had the stories started the parts and not every chapter.

Lastly, the ending caused for a very disappointing story. After reading so much and putting so much into the book the ending seemed to be very scattered and unsatisfying. There was no closure to the characters, and although this may be how Stroud intended the story to end, it just felt very disconnected to the whole story. Also there is an element of confusion involved with it, as it appears to be thrown out there from left field.

In the end, Jonathan Stroud's Heroes of the Valley fell short of anything that I was expecting. There was a lack of characters that I enjoyed or really cared about, which makes it hard to follow a story. While Stroud is an excellent storyteller and the potential to make a lot of great stories, his talent doesn't show through in this work.


Jeff C said...

That's too bad. I had been considering this book in my quest to read more YA stuff. I was waiting for a review to show up. Thanks for saving me some cash, Cindy :)

Cindy said...

You're welcome Jeff. Sometimes I think I'm overly critical of books, but there was just no nit picking on this book.

:) I haven't seen any reviews on this book, other then goodreads and I know I'm not in the minority on my views of this books. So that is as least comforting.

I'm still looking for YA books that you might enjoy :)/

Fatcat said...

I didn't hate it. I was disappointed in the ending though.

Anonymous said...

It's always harder to review a new offering from a favourite author, when you keep grasping for more of the story that made him your favourite to begin with. Here is just such a case.

I am truly glad that I approached this book with fewer preconceptions than our reviewer, as I found it a very delightful read, filled with the drama an humour that I come to expect from Stroud over the years, and as such, not dissapointing at all.

One further aside to the reviewer... If you are going to write in english, please learn to use the language. I truly doubt that "readers may be coming in excepting another Bartimaeus Trilogy"; Perhaps you may mean expecting but it's annoying to have to make the assumption. Maybe your intent was to "sever" the deadly results of the ultimate practical joke, but it ultimately falls as flat as this unhelpful and biased review.

Grow up and learn to approach reviewing something new without preconceptions. Perhaps you may then be capable of creating a balanced review, rather than winging on about how the book doesn't have what the other books had. Of course not... its a different book, from an author at a different stage. Get over it... and yourself!

Liviu said...

What's that thing about balanced reviews that I see blathered about in many places; if a reviewer truly did not like a book for whatever reasons - and I think Cindy explained them here carefully - should she lie about for the sake of balance?

If Jonathan Stroud style and Cindy's tastes diverged, so what? I have many authors I used to enjoy and in time my tastes diverged from their style and I after a try or two I just avoid them. Neither here, nor there...

I may not write a review if I disliked the book since I would not want to waste my time, or I may write a capsule un-review, but if I do, I would not lie or mislead for the sake of balance.

You may not like our reviews, feel free and ignore us.

Constructive criticism is one, but insulting language like "grow up" is different and I take strong exception to. At least give us the courtesy to grow up too and use a name rather than hiding.

Cindy said...

Maybe as I said above I was to harsh on the book, however I found had a lot of problems with the book, especially the ending. If the ending had been better would I have liked it? Maybe we'll never know.

I do wonder what made you like the book, since you seem to pressure me as a reviewer to write about how great the book is yet you don't explain what you yourself liked about the book. I'm just curious.

I will never lie in a review, I won't trash the book. It was a negative review plain and simple.

I do find the name calling a bit unnecessary. We do not get paid to blog so the blog posting will not be 100% correct as far as grammar and spelling. But this brings the case of how many published books have grammar mistakes, or are missing a word here or there. It happens we're human and make a mistake.

I do not however believe that I am the almighty reviewer in the world and my opinion of myself is not inflated.

The problem I had is that all publicity for this book kept bringing up the trilogy he had written before. It wasn't anything like that at all. If J.K Rowling writes again, will people expect a Harry Potter? Of course. That's what happens as a writer.

I'm sorry your opinions differed from mine, it just would have been nice to see you debate the book in a mature fashion instead of resulting to name calling and insults.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the book. I think the reason this person was 'blocking there identity' was because they simply did not have a google account like my self. I thought this book reached out to the outcasts of life. In life we spend our lives being described as we are 'all the way to the end', good or bad. Halli, was like most teenagers, just bad. :D I enjoyed reading through to find out what would happen next and was happy with the final result. The end was left wide open but can lead to a second. I have never read the first books Stroud wrote so I cannot compare.
Now, as for the review, I thought it was great. I read it, concidered it and bought the book anyway. Everyone has there own opinion and we 'should' respect each other. Saying nasty things in order to smear someone elses opinion is just rude. Cindy, I thought your review was well described and 'balanced'. You did not say you hated it or that it was a bad book. You confirmed what it was lacking and what you thought it could have improved on. I thought I should post this so you can have another opinion. One thing I do agree with is, you cannot start reading a book based on a previous series of stories and think they should fit together. Maybe take the book from a different point of view, such as an outcasts life. Remember everyone, this is not a fight, this is a blog. Happy reading!!

Cindy said...

I just saw the second Anon. Thank you for your comments, it's really hard as a review to take into consideration every single person's take on it, that's why a review is my take on books and what *I* liked and disliked. People can agree or disagree it doesn't matter.

I just would have liked to find out WHY the person liked it so much instead of attacking. As second Anon mention you brought a lot of good points out and things for me to consider when thinking of the book. I think my major issue is if you're going to tote a book as a stand alone novel make it a stand alone novel don't leave it open for 2nd and 3rd books. This isn't just Stroud it's any author.

I should point out that I didn't think this book should "fit" together with the first series I honestly felt the writing wasn't as good, it was different just not what I came to except. Some authors can write differently then their first books and still be good and I just felt it was lacking. This book appealed to a totally different audience and maybe that was why I couldn't get into it as much as I wanted to :)

devanampiya piyadasi said...

Now I am confused should I buy it or not:) I think I will. Thanks for the review Cindy and Anon2.

Cindy said...

You're welcome. If you do read it let me know what you think!

Diane said...

I agree with Cindy: I could not find one character I could identify or empathize with. For me, there was a complete lack of "warmth" and consideration of others in the book. It was mainly just the heroes looking out for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I found this review to coincide well with my experience. Stroud's writing is always solid but I was disappointed overall with the story and particularly the ending. I'm not sorry that I read it, but given the chance to go back in time, I wouldn't choose to buy it again.

Stefan said...

I felt as if Aud was pretty realistic, but everyone else was rather disappointing. I agree that Stroud was spending too much time on Halli, but I still think it was a great novel. I hated the ending though. I was expecting something totally different.

will said...

your crazy "Heroes of the Valley" was one of the best books I ever read with an amazing story from the being to the end

also will said...

you look at all the down sides (most of which I thought were the best parts) you are depriving readers from fantastic books

will again said...

I don't even care if you approve these comments or not I just want you to know

will is back said...

even the Anonymous that wrote the essay comment (which I almost always hate) is right try looking at the up sides as well some readers could enjoy the parts you disliked

will has returned said...

just because you cant "bond" with a character does not make it a bad one

will is back again said...

that's the fun in fantasy books any one good or bad can be as cunning or kind as the author wants

KajaKaba said...

I just finished the book, and enjoyed it very much. I loved the Bartimaeus books, and while this was very different from those, it had many of the same qualities.
I found the characters to be very relatable, humorous, but also human, believable and sympathetic.
I agree with this reviewer that the story took too long to get going. I was near the end of chapter 6 before I was really hooked. That's a lot of reading to get going, and I'll be honest, if it weren't for Bartimaeus I'd probably have quit reading before I got that far. It's not that it was a terrible beginning, just slow, which was vastly different than Bartimaeus.
Once the action started it was great! I couldn't put it down.
Stroud seems to have a thing for strong female supporting characters, and here he does not disappoint. Aud, like Kitty and Asmira, is competent, confident, and courageous. I thoroughly enjoyed the development of both her and Halli's characters throughout the story.
It seems that Stroud was going for a sort of old norse fairie tale, in terms of form and style. The structure, slow beginning and abrupt ending, reminded me of old fairie tales and norse mythology I've read. Either it will work for you, or it won't. It's mostly a matter of opinion. For me, it was distracting at times, but I'd still recommend the book. I plan to reread it soon, as I think there are many subtleties within the text that will make a second reading that much more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a good book and it is my favorite book, I am a sixth grade book worm an d I love fantasy so i don't care how you might see this book its my favorite book

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