by Jonathan Stroud
finished June 30, 2010
Madeline told me to read this book. She loved it. Jonathan Stroud is one of her favorite authors. He also wrote the Bartimeus Trilogy.
I really enjoyed it. It's a fantasy, but reads more like an imaginary historical novel. It's set in a kind of medieval viking era, in a secluded valley. The fantastical elements are spoken of, but don't really make an appearance until late in the book.
The heroes of the valley are brave men who settled the land. There are villages or houses named after them - Svein's house and Hakkon's house are the two that drive the plot. Halli Sveinsson is an unlikely hero, but he longs to be one like Svein, the hero of the many sagas and tales he has been told throughout his life. But there's little hope of a life of adventure for Halli. He's a second son and will not inherit any post of responsibility or authority in his house. He is also short of stature and not very handsome. The way he's described, I believe Halli must be a dwarf. Not in the mythical sense, but an actual "little person." He's laughed at and ignored most of the time, which makes him act out. He's often in trouble and that's where the trouble begins.
Halli is forbidden to join the Festival - a time when people of many houses gather at one house for eating, drinking and other activities. Because he isn't dressed in his festival wear, he's mistaken for a servant by a member of the Hakkonson family and treated badly. In retaliation, he nearly poisons the young man and starts a feud which ends in murder. Halli seeks revenge and sets out on a life changing adventure.
Halli's greatest desire is to be the hero of this adventure. He dreams of one day being as great as the heroes of the valley who defeated the deadly Trows - creatures who live beyond the hills and the reason no one can leave the valley. The heroes of old have been buried in cairns around the perimeter of the valley in order to guard against the Trows. Halli meets up with Aud, a girl from another house, who tries to convince him that the Trows and the stories of the old heroes are just fairy tales.
Jonathan Stroud has us wavering back and forth like Halli. Are the Trows real? Should Halli and Aud travel beyond the cairns? The answer to these questions is the most gripping and thrilling part of the book.
Good book suggestion, Madeline!