It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for a book review. I listened to the audiobook of Heroes of the Valley at the end of 2018, right smack at the same time I was preparing for the launch of my book. It was a great distraction for all those times I needed to relax and escape the stress of planning a large event, interesting enough to hold my interest, but not gripping enough that I was tempted to stay up after bedtime.
Halli Sveinsson, youngest and most awkward of the Sveinsson house, grew up listening to the stories of when his valley was a wild and dangerous place and brave men stood heroically to defend it. His reality is much more bland. The valley is ruled by laws and governed by a Council of women who demand peace and equality. His heroic attempts always end badly, usually with someone being humiliated, and that someone is usually him.
When violence comes to his home, Halli sets off on a path of revenge and his own hero’s quest. He is inspired by the stories of the brave and bold Svein, the hero from which his family took its name. Along the path, Halli learns that he is not the hero he’d hoped he’d be and returns home, guilt ridden.
But, all is not is as it should be. Not only has Halli gained a reputation of being an ill-doer, he is accused of murder. His actions put the whole village in danger from the house of Hakonsson who comes to attack. With the assistance of the lovely and brave Aud, Halli creates a plan much like Svein of old to protect his house.
While I love a good high fantasy, especially one filled with swords, magic, and noble characters – this one was definitely different. Our main character Halli is wonderfully flawed almost to the point of being comedic. Everyone else around him tolerates him at best, and downright hates him at worst. Because he’s never really liked, he experiences a sort of freedom that the rest of his house doesn’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter what he does, he’ll get in trouble for it anyway, so he does whatever he wants. Being at the bottom of the respect ladder means you can’t fall down further.
One would think that this would make Halli depressed and hard to read, but it does the opposite. He’s got a ready wit and shares it regardless if it’s the right thing to say or not. When he’s not speaking, he’s always thinking of a way to get what he wants. His goals are neither noble or evil, but are very realistic, which makes his story that much more relatable.
Interspersed between Halli’s chapters are chapters where the legend of the beloved Svein and the Battle of the Rock are told. These fable-like stories paint the hero in such inflated terms that he’s grown much bigger than life, performing feats of super human strength and endurance that can hardly be believed. Because I was listening to the story (yay audiobooks!) I didn’t catch that there was this switch for the first half of the book and ended up very confused. When listening, there is precious little to cue the listener that this switch has taken place. So when you believe you are in a Halli chapter, it might be several paragraphs before you realize you are in a Svein chapter.
Even with this, the two stories end up complimenting each other in such a way that the reader feels they understand Halli’s drive. He loves the story of Svein so much, he will do anything in his power to become a hero.
Those who enjoy fiction with a strong Nordic feel and heavy cultural notes, plus monsters that we are never quite sure are real, will enjoy this book.
It’s a strong read, well-written with lots of excellent world and culture building. As for liking it, I enjoyed listening to it, but didn’t love it. The storytelling style made it hard to be immersed in the story the way other books do and the magical element I was hoping for didn’t come through as a significant part of the story.
I’d still give the title 4/5 stars for being ingeniously constructed, well-written, and an all around solid narrative.
Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?
It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!