Feb. 22nd, 2009

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Unlike Frances Hardinge's Gullstruck Island, about which I seem to be virtually the only person enthusing -- raving! trying to push!! -- there's been quite a bit of buzz over Heroes of the Valley. Fuse #8/Elizabeth Bird found it extremely enjoyable. Kathryn Hughes at the Guardian was stunned by it.* [livejournal.com profile] chilperic was enthralled from beginning to end.

I agree with almost everything said by every one of them - but also found it just a bit irritating at times. After several times having an 'I am so over this kind of boy hero' thought flit through my head, I tried to figure out what was causing it. I loved the fact that Halli was short, not at all heroic in the style of heroism he thought the only proper sort, and generally as far from the 'chosen one' type as you could imagine. I loved the portrayal of his growing from self-absorbed, uncontrolled kid thirsting for the glory of adventure (read killing) to relatively thoughtful, questioning and more truly heroic character. And his counterpart, Aud, was fine too, if not much more for my taste. There was a lot of real humour in the book which I enjoyed, but not so much for the interaction between Halli and Aud. It was very reminiscent of Taran and Eilonwy in the Chronicles of Prydain, but lacking a certain something, not to be overly technical about it. Sparring, the boy being hugely emotionally blind and not 'getting' why the girl gets bent out of shape, leading to a quarrel, and another quarrel, and yet another -- interspersed with Danger! Rescuing! Trust! It probably didn't help that I'm listening to Eoin Colfer's Airman on audiobook atm, and enjoying it less and less**, as it has another similar relationship (in Part 1, at least) between Conor and the princess. Then I thought of lovably clueless Percy Jackson and how he doesn't annoy me at all and -- well, who knows why behaviour that drives you crazy in one character seems endearing in another.

My favourite thing about the book was the very skillful way in which the short legends at the beginning of each chapter about Svein, Halli's family's ancestor, gradually change. At first the stories reflect the bravery and sacrifice of the heroes, who've paid with their lives to ensure the safety of everyone in the valley from the terrifying Trows. From mid-way through they become increasingly disturbing until the reader is suddenly struck with the realisation that Svein was a freakin' psychopath. And the people living in the valley's hero-worship of him (or the other heroes - each family group portrays their ancestor as THE hero of the same stories) says some unpleasant things about them.

The ending was wonderful, with Halli and Aud's having become the 'heroes' of a legend themselves - though it left me feeling that this is a surprisingly bleak book for one with so much humour. But I think that the bleakness part may be true of every book by Stroud I've read, which is all of them except The Last Seige.

*Some child lit people were stunned by her comment about children's fantasy of the past 30 years. Personally I think "laced with" is an appropriately vague measure which might keep her out of hot water.

** Disclaimer: This is another I should have read instead of listening to the audiobook, which is doing NO favours to the story - jumping perspectives at tense moments are extremely annoying in this format. The book may well deserve more appreciation than it's getting.


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