Book Thoughts: Heroes of the Valley

Heroes of the Valley was a 2009 book by Jonathan Stroud. My mom got this book for me at the annual rummage sale at our church. I had just finished the Harry Potter series. My mom saw a fantasy book and thought I’d like it. I did read it, but I never got into it much. I had to really force myself to read it. See, there are two kinds of fantasy, high fantasy and low fantasy. Low fantasy is mostly like our world with just a few things out of the ordinary while high fantasy is totally outside the realm of possibility in the real world. When I read a fiction book, I am looking to be swept away into another world. Low fantasy to me is just too much like our world. If I am interested in that kind of story, I’d rather just read about real world history. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is high fantasy, so I easily got into it.

As its name implies, Heroes of the Valley took place in a fictional valley somewhere in northern Europe in a medieval time. In the outer part of the valley near the mountains were several holes inhabited by mysterious monsters. They only come out at night, but people were pulled down into the darkness never to be seen again. Past ancestors fought the monsters off long enough for the family villages to build a fence around the safe, central valley. Along the fence they buried the heroic past ancestors with cairn stones to ward off the monsters. Then all of the family villages agreed to make the area beyond the fence off limits for fear that the monsters might discover their safe haven and overwhelm the central valley. By the time the book started, the villages had grown to become kingdoms all run by descendants of those original hero ancestors.

I really liked the mystery of the monsters, but the story unfortunately, never revealed much more information about them. Instead of sticking to this interesting stuff, Mr. Stroud focused on the coming of age of the main character, Halli Sveinsson, with a backdrop of political conflicts between the various kingdoms. Halli’s action and inaction played a key part in these conflicts. At the end he got to become a hero like the stories of old, fighting the monsters as his ancestor Svein did. Then the book ended abruptly.

Heroes of the Valley felt like book one in a series, but this was no series. Maybe the author intended this to be the beginning of a book series but initial interest was low and reviews were not good enough. I do not know, and the book suffered for it. I believe that each story should be as self-contained as possible. It’s okay to have minor plot threads unanswered to be revealed in later books, but not major ones such as the situation with the monsters. They are introduced as the main villain, but the people never got to fight back or cleanse the outer valley. It was never revealed why they were there or how they got there. The answers to these questions should have been in the conclusion.

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