It’s 1910, and Raise has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. She is enthralled, overwhelmed, and even frightened, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. How do you survive in a foreign land without a job, a place to live, or a command of the native language? Perseverance and the kindness of handsome young Gavrel lead Raisa to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists…until 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. Fabric and thread and life catch fire. And the flames burn hot enough to change Raisa—and the entire city—forever.
Threads and Flames tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history. I was given the impression that a lot of the book would focus on the fire, but the book focuses much more on Raisa’s life and what leads her to work at the factory. The fire is not until the last third of the novel, which surprised me, though I can’t say why. I supposed I was just expecting the fire to be a little bit more central to the novel.
The novel is much better in the middle than it is in the beginning and the end. Friesner’s writing is clumsy, moralizing, and stilted in places, especially apparent at the beginning, the end, and in the places where Raisa’s thoughts take up most of the page. Some of the antagonism of the book sometimes comes across as forced, such as the woman whom Raisa first works for who is almost melodramatically villainish, and most of the moments that are the most tense or the most meaningful seem too moralizing, probably because of Friesner’s tendency to tell, not show.
However, the middle of the book flows really well, probably because it’s absent of most of the significant and/or tense moments, and was my favorite part of the book. Friesner is certainly no Ruta Sepetys, but Raisa’s story is mostly engaging and keeps the reader interested into the end, even with the flaws. It’s a pity that the writing style is so obvious and preachy; otherwise, this book would have been excellent. Instead, Threads and Flames is good, but not a novel I would immediately recommend.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Your sister?” The man stood up from the table and came closer. He studied her face with as much concentration as if he expected to find a treasure map in her eyes. “You’re her sister? But she was beautiful!”
Raisa swallowed a sharp retort.
“We’re sisters all the same,” she replied mildly. “She was always sending money home so that I could join her over here. I just arrived yesterday, except they tell me she’s bene gone for weeks.”
His visit turned out to be ridiculously brief. Madeleine and Elliot barely talked before word came that he and his father would be bundled back to Cello. On the train platform, Elliot didn’t snap out of the distant fog he seemed to be in. And Madeleine’s nose bled—again!—just as she tried to say good-bye. Now she’s mortified, heartbroken, lost—and completely cut off from Cello. Cello, meanwhile, is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception of her people has emerged and the kingdom is outraged. Authorities have placed the princess under arrest and ordered her execution. Color storms are rampant, more violent than ever. And nobody has heard the Cello Wind blowing in months. But Madeleine can’t let go of Cello. It gave her a tantalizing glimpse of the magic she’s always wanted—and maybe it’s the key to the person she is meant to become. She also can’t let go of Elliot, who, unbeknownst to her, is being held captive by a dangerous branch of Hostiles. What will it take to put these two on a collision course to save the Kingdom of Cello, and maybe to save each other?
I’m going to jump right in with my absolute favorite thing about A Tangle of Gold: it has one of the best plot twists I’ve experienced in a long time. Looking back, I can see now how all the pieces line up and all the hints and clues that were scattered along the trilogy. In the moment, though, when things were happening and I was wondering what on earth was going on and starting to roll my eyes at the ridiculous/ “poetic” descriptions, Moriarty drops that piece of amazing plot reveal right in my lap. I actually gasped and said, “No way!” out loud, and not many books get me to do that. And the best thing was that it made so much sense but wasn’t so obvious that I saw it coming a mile away—because I didn’t see it coming, at all.
The biggest complaint I’ve had about the Colors of Madeleine trilogy so far is the voice of the characters. However, in A Tangle of Gold, either there was less of it jarring me out of the book or I simply noticed it less. Maybe the plot reveal made me look at the book more favorably. I will say, though, that some things happened that I had a really hard time swallowing. Like Princess Jupiter’s magical abilities manifesting because of plot convenience. And Elliott’s brainless decisions while being with the Hostiles. And that whole thing with the Circle and immortality. And, made slightly more tongue-in-cheek by Belle’s reaction, the whole thing with Jack revealed at the very end. Also, the ending was jarring because it ended so abruptly and not particularly as satisfying as I thought it could be.
However, A Tangle of Gold might be my favorite of the trilogy if only for that marvelous bit of plot weaving that Moriarty did throughout the entire trilogy leading up to that plot reveal. You’re likely not to be disappointed by this book if you enjoyed the other two, and while some things become a little convenient with our heroes and there’s still a kind of pretentious, fake voice to the teenagers, particularly Belle, it’s a good finish to the trilogy. If only the ending had given just a little more closure.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
That night, Madeleine lay on her couch-bed and felt the silence rising up from the flat downstairs. It joined the darkness in her own flat, injecting it with shots of deeper darkness.
A thread of burning colours was coiling through her veins. A hot-oil rainbow. It smelled like ink spilled from permanent markers, the high, poisoned sweetness of it.
A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine.
Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in cramped quarters in a rainy corner of Cambridge, England. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Cello, Elliot is searching for his father. He disappeared a year ago, the same night that Elliot’s uncle was found dead on the side of the road. Official word is that a third-level Purple is responsible, but talk about town is that Elliot’s dad may have murdered his brother and run away with the high-school physics teacher. Elliot refuses to believe this, and is determined to find both his dad and the truth. When Madeleine and Elliot begin to exchange messages across worlds—through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries—the large and small events of their lives start to intertwine. Dangerous Colors are storming across Cello (a second-level gray will tear you to pieces; a first-level Yellow can blind you), while Madeleine is falling for her new friend jack. In Cello, they are searching for the tiny Butterfly Child, while Madeleine fears that her mother may be dangerously ill. Can a corner of white hold a kingdom? Can a stranger from another world help to solve the problems—and unravel the mysterious—in your own? And can Madeleine and Elliot find the missing pieces of themselves before it is too late?
A Corner of White, and by extension Jaclyn Moriarty, reminded me a great deal of Maggie Stiefvater’s works. Moriarty effortlessly blends together both the real world and Cello and makes Cello seem both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time with familiar aspects and fantastical additions. She also spends some time poking fun at worldbuilding and, perhaps, what people expect from fantasy worlds, with a letter from Madeleine asking Elliott everything under the sun about Cello (such as its politics, its stance on certain social issues, etc.). Yet even though Elliot never answers those questions, Cello never feels underdeveloped or weak as a world.
I also give props to Moriarty for making the plot become much more complex than I was expecting in the last few pages of the novel. I love flip-arounds like the one that happened here, and it made me eager to get the next book, as opposed to ambivalent as I felt for much of the book.
However, the main flaw of A Corner of White is that its characters, especially Madeleine, Belle and Jack, speak in increasingly unrealistic voices as the novel goes on. The trend in young adult literature nowadays seems to be quirky, philosophical teenagers who snark and talk in ways I’ve never heard teenagers speak and be witty and insightful in every dialogue they have. However, I’ve yet to meet a teenager who actually speaks like Madeleine or Belle or Jack speak in this book—and I hang around them for a living. It’s my problem with a lot of popular young adults books, such as Stiefvater’s (especially her villains) and John Green’s (Paper Towns was the most boring, pseudo-philosophical poetic piece of nonsense I’ve read in a while)—no one actually talks like that. No teenager has wit dripping from every line or has the perfect snarky comeback every time.
That’s the ironic thing about A Corner of White—Madeleine, Belle and Jack, and some of their situations (like the odd, absurd schooling they’re getting. Yay homeschooling, but boo the insane amount of quirkiness) seem more fantastic than Elliot and, to some extent, Cello. Elliot, at least, acts mostly like a normal teenager. I found myself liking Elliot’s story (point of view may be a more apt term) more and more, and liking Madeleine’s story (point of view) less and less.
However, despite the unrealisticness of most of the characters, A Corner of White, due to its truly surprising ending, got me hooked on the rest of the series. I’m not jumping up and down for joy after reading it, but I am looking forward to reading the next book. I just hope Madeleine is a little more realistic this time.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Mentions of drug abuse and infidelity.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“If you could just open the book at any page, Jack, and ask a question.”
“All right.” He flicked through the pages, whistling to himself, then said, “Here’s a good one. What is philematology?”
Now Holly turned to her daughter. “The only way this homeschooling thing is going to work,” she said sternly, “is if you forget that I’m your mother and respect me as a teacher.”
“You’re funny,” said Madeleine. “It’s like you keep surprising me that way.”
Belle took the book from Jack’s hands and flipped it to a different page.
“Who is Samuel Langhorne Clements?” she said. “I mean, who’s he better known as? Not, like, who is he? Cause you could just say Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”
You see.” Holly turned again to Madeleine. “It’s true that this brief interlude of question-asking—it’s true that it might incidentally help me prepare for my quiz show, but its primary purpose is to enliven your young minds.”
Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2007 by Bloomsbury.
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despise, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, the other decidedly less so—the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
Based off of the little-known Grimm’s fairy tale “Maid Maleen,” Book of a Thousand Days is an engaging, beautiful read of a girl who has to hold herself and her mistress together as they are imprisoned in a tower and then forced into hiding in another country. Dashti is the heart and soul of the book, a female protagonist who is not overtly strong or rebellious against societal conventions, but quietly steadfast and persistent and brave. She’s clever and witty, but not overly outspoken, and she’s basically everything I want in a female protagonist.
Simply put, I devoured this book and its lovely romance. I liked that even though Dashti is the narrator, there are still things the reader will catch onto before she does, such as the nature of Saren’s relationship with Tegus and even, perhaps, the secret of Lord Khasar. I liked that Saren, as annoying as she could get, was at least understandable, in a way, and that she develops, too, and becomes less of an obstacle that Dashti must endure and more of a character.
Book of a Thousand Days is lovely, an adaptation of a fairy tale I’d never heard of (though Hale states she wasn’t particularly true to the original) that is simple, yet engaging all the same. I liked the sweet moments scattered between all the tense and unsure moments; the book has a very good balance of low and high points. This book has redeemed Hale in my eyes a bit after the disappointing sequels to Princess Academy.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Young Adult
My lady removed her hand and started to pace and fret and rub her head. She looked as if she’d like to run away, had there been anywhere to run. My poor lady.
“Say you are me.”
“What?” But why, my lady?”
“You are my maid, Dashti,” she said, and though she still shook like a rabbit, her voice was hard and full of the knowledge that she’s gentry. “It is my right to have my maid speak for me. I don’t’ like to speak to someone directly. What if it isn’t really him? What if he means us harm?”
Having once been cursed to dance every night with her sisters, Princess Poppy has vowed never again to put on a pair of dancing slippers. Which is why she’s reluctant to participate in the royal exchange program that her father and some of their neighbor kings have cooked up. Life in far-off Breton isn’t so bad, not when there’s money to be own playing cards and a handsome prince promising friendship…and maybe something more. But when a hapless servant named Eleanora enters the picture and sets her sights on the prince, too, which girl will win his heart? And who is behind the magnificent gowns and slippers that the penniless Eleanora has been wearing to the balls? Only Princess Poppy can see through the magic that holds the rest of the kingdom in its spell. And having fought against one curse before, she’s just the girl to take on another!
Princess of Glass is a fairly unique take on Cinderella, following the bare bones of the tale but branching off and fitting it into the larger picture of George’s fantasy world. I’m not a huge fan of the Cinderella fairy tale aside from the 2015 live-action remake, but George does a good job of changing the tale up so it’s not so straightforward and predictable.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing I liked about the book. George seems to be hit-and-miss with me; I enjoyed Princess of the Midnight Ball and most of the Castle Glower books, but had problems with Dragon Slippers and now this book. I don’t think it’s the world or the plot in and of itself that made me dislike Princess of Glass; it’s the way George delivers it. Maybe it’s a writing style issue, maybe not. I’m not sure. I just know that the more of the book I read, the more I wanted it to be over.
Perhaps the melodrama that happens when Eleanora becomes “Lady Ellen” and enchants everyone is what started my dislike; Christian is fighting it and yet not fighting it and thinking melodramatic things and seems to be the only person under the spell who realizes something isn’t quite right. Then there’s the thoroughly unconvincing romance between Roger and Eleanora, and the slightly less unconvincing but still not very well-developed romance between Christian and Poppy, combined with a villain whose motives are confusing until a character conveniently infodumps her backstory near the end of the book.
Maybe the best way to describe how I felt about Princess of Glass is “sloppy.” George had a good idea regarding the retelling of Cinderella and then sloppily executed it. There’s too much infodumping, too much melodrama, and too much convenience. It almost makes me want to not read another Jessica Day George book. Princess of Glass did absolutely nothing to make me appreciate “Cinderella” more and only contributed to the many reasons why I would prefer reading a retelling of any other fairy tale.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Young Adult
“You are a strenge gel, Princessss Puppy,” the duchess said. “He-ere you are, with ev-er-y young man in Breton to dence with you, and you well not dence.”
“Ah,” Poppy said after deciphering this. “No. I don’t den—dance.”
“Wuh-hy not?” The duchess raised one overplucked eyebrow.
“Because my mother and sisters and I were cursed to dance for the pleasure of an evil king,” Poppy thought. She reached up and straightened her knitted silk choker. “I do not care for dancing,” she said finally.
The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.
The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.
The Cardturner is a story about bridge. That’s really the simplest way to put it. It’s a story about how to play bridge wrapped up in the story of a boy and his uncle. And Sachar manages to describe the complicated game in a perfect way, lessening its complexity, putting the rules into the voice of a teenager also learning to play bridge, and describing scenarios with helpful diagrams so that the reader knows, by the time Alton and Toni get to nationals, how important/amazing certain hands/rounds are.
I’ve read this book before, and it sucked me in for a reason I couldn’t—and still can’t—identify. I recently read Fuzzy Mud by Sachar, which was a disappointing read, and so going into this book I was a little worried that my memory of it would let me down. However, perhaps I just enjoy stories about beginners who start out with a sport or a game, not knowing how to play, and then, through practice and study, work their way up to the big leagues. Perhaps it’s the way Sachar explains the game, or the way he interweaves humor into its explanation, or the backstory given about Trapp. Whatever it is, I found The Cardturner compelling and, pun definitely intended, a page turner, exactly like I did the first time.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any parts I didn’t like. The entire conversation with Trapp and Alton about how ideas are the only thing that are alive was nonsensical, although I suppose Sachar did it so that he could include Alton and Toni hearing voices without going the psychological or supernatural route. Speaking of which, that part of the novel is a little hard to swallow, though it does make for a good read and emphasizes Alton’s grit and success in a way that would have been lacking without it. However, The Cardturner is best when it’s not philosophizing and sticks to describing bridge, a game I almost never play but definitely enjoy knowing more about, thanks to this book.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, mentions of domestic abuse.
Genre: Realistic, Young Adult
I learned what I was supposed to do if Trapp was dealt a hand with no cards in one suit. I’d say the word void. So when telling him his hand, I’d say something like “Spades: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Hearts: king, queen, jack. Diamonds: void. Clubs: ace, nine, six, three, two.”
I also began to understand how the game was played. I learned what trump meant. I wouldn’t admit it to my uncle, but the game began to intrigue me. I would sometimes try to guess what card he’s play before he told me to play it, but don’t worry, I never asked, “Are you sure?”
When young Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father, she finds her old home shadowed with fear. The king has become a violent despot, terrorizing those he once loved. His son and heir Alberon has fled into exile and now there are whispers everywhere of rebellion. Meanwhile, Alberon’s half-brother Razi has been elevated to the throne. He struggles to meet his King’s demands while remaining loyal to his beloved brother and to his friend Wynter. Now she must choose—her father or her dreams, her friend o her king, her duty or her love.
What is it with me reading lackluster fantasies recently that somehow manage to compel me enough to keep reading? The Poison Throne, à la Falling Kingdoms, was the sort of book where every chapter I thought, “Okay, I’m going to stop reading” and then I kept reading for some inexplicable reason.
It definitely wasn’t the characters that kept me reading. Every other page one of them is yelling, or screaming, or kicking something, or shouting “NO!”, or crying, or doing a myriad of annoying things. Wynter was a sad, passive excuse for a character, although at the end she gets a little better. Christopher and Razi were bland and boring, and all the characters were so melodramatic that it was hard to take any of them seriously for long.
It also wasn’t the world. It reads like a fantasy at first, and then Kiernan suddenly reveals that it’s a medieval fantasy, set in the Middle Ages, but with some convoluted and inconsistent building that hints at a non-Earth setting even though it’s so desperately trying to be alternate history. Kiernan cobbles together actual places and people groups with fake ones, making it a muddled world overall.
The thing that kept me reading might have been the plot, which had glimmers of hope. The mystery of why the crown prince is reportedly rebelling was vaguely interesting, and the end of the book, with Wynter leaving to go find him (although it’s never stated why, exactly, she’s doing this), was intriguing. The rest of it was as muddled and melodramatic as the plot and the characters, but slivers of interest kept poking up amidst the muck.
Or maybe the thing that kept me reading The Poison Throne was the “It’s so bad it’s good” concept or the “can’t stop watching this train wreck” concept. Every page I turned, every chapter where I half-thought I would close the book, was the page or the chapter where I thought, “Well, maybe just one more, just to see what happens.” I’m certainly not a fan of The Poison Throne, nor do I consider it above a mediocre fantasy (if even that), but it’s one of those books where, if I was browsing the library shelves and had nothing else I wanted to read, I might just pick up the sequel. You know—just to see what happens.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Violence, a small snippet of swearing.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“Where is Alberon, Razi?” Wynter asked. She kept her voice low and only glanced sideways at him. They had had no contact for the last five years; had, until now, not even been sure if the other survived. Now, questions, if asked at all, would have to be asked gently, obliquely, for fear of opening old wounds or uncovering secrets best left hidden.
Razi cleared his throat and shook his head. “I don’t know where Albi is, little sister. He is not here. Father says…Father says that he has sent him to the coast, to inspect the fleet.” Their eyes met briefly and Wynter looked away.
After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by the handsome and mysterious Watcher, Griff, and his witty and warmhearted partner, Quirk, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?
Rose & Thorn is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a reimaging. Rose & Thorn is a sequel of sorts to Ash & Bramble, which set up the idea of Story forcing people to fulfill fairy tales over and over. So, the main goal of the characters is to not have the original fairy tale happen, so things go a little differently than one might expect (although saying that may be spoilery, but oh well).
It’s a beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale I don’t actually much like, and there’s loads of originality throughout. Rose is a great protagonist, the type of female protagonist I like. She’s not all gung-ho, “I can do everything cool and awesome” warrior-esque, which can get so tiring and boring. She’s much quieter and understated, which I prefer.
The romance was a little boring, but I find most romances boring in YA since it’s so clearly designed to appeal to teenagers. Griff as a character, at least, was interesting, although I thought the ending was a little rushed—it was believable, but definitely could have been more so in terms of his change.
The main problem of Rose & Thorn, and of Prineas’s fairytale retellings in general, is the concept of Story as this malevolent force that constrains people to its will somehow (through a Godmother, but then at the end it’s revealed it can act on its own, so why does it need a Godmother?) and forces them into fairy tales over and over. But not all stories are Story, only some—if they’re “your own stories,” whatever that is (seemingly the one you want). What if the story you want is the same one that Story wants? Anyway, it’s a little hard to swallow and several times it seems a little forced in the story, as if Prineas also realizes that an idea like Story is hard to convey or accept as realistic.
However, despite the problems of its underlying concept, Rose & Thorn is an imaginative, fresh retelling of Sleeping Beauty with memorable characters (even if you haven’t read Ash & Bramble) and an interesting protagonist, and carries enough appeal to make me want to keep reading Prineas’s fairy tale retellings.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult
“Ohhhh,” I breathed. This was the Forest. It had offered the clearing as a baited trap, I realized, and it had reached out to take me as I slept. Merry had told me that the Forest was evil, and maybe I should’ve been frightened, but I suddenly felt excited. Ready to go where the Forest led me.
It was, I realized, my story beginning. “Once upon a time…,” I whispered to myself.
I ate a quick bite of breakfast, rebraided my hair, washed my face in the stream—which hadn’t disappeared, like the road—put on my cloak, slung my knapsack over my shoulders, and, ready to start, turned in a slow circle, looking for a way through the trees.
“Once upon a time,” I repeated, “there was a girl who was searching for a path through an enchanted forest.”
Falling Kingdoms, by Morgan Rhodes, was published in 2012 by Penguin.
In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest now simmers below the surface. As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed…and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even unforeseen love. The only outcome that’s certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?
Reading Falling Kingdoms was like driving down a one-way street, knowing that there’s no way through but still wondering what the end will look like. I briefly considered putting it down about a third of the way through, but I kept reading.
Why did I keep reading, you ask? Well, it wasn’t because of the characters. Stock, predictable characters who do stupid things for the sake of the plot don’t really interest me. My favorite was probably Magnus, even though the “forbidden love” aspect was gross and annoying. And then we have Lucia, who is supposed to be a main, viewpoint character but is usually pushed aside in favor of Magnus. And Jonas, who is annoying. And Cleo, who’s exactly like every single female protagonist I’ve read in YA, which means the majority of readers probably love her. Oh, and her love story, which is so predictable you can see it coming before the book even starts.
I also didn’t keep reading because of the plot and world. The “this kingdom is oppressing this one and so it decides to fight back, oh and there are some evil kings who want to take over the world and some type of magic and a prophecy and some mystical items to find” plot isn’t developed nearly well enough to make up for its unoriginality, and the world is the standard magical kingdom variety, complete with dead goddesses and The One Sorcerer to Rule Them All.
So, what was it about Falling Kingdoms that made me finish the book and go, “Hmm, I could read the next one”? Since I didn’t enjoy any of the characters, the plot, or the world itself, I can’t honestly say. Maybe it was the simple feel of the book itself, that “you know I’ll be terrible but you want to read me anyway” atmosphere that exudes from books like these. Maybe I just like driving down one-way streets, because they might, somehow, end up somewhere interesting.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Incestual thoughts, violence, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“I need to see him,” Jonas murmured. “I need to do what Tomas wanted to do. Things need to change.”
Brion looked at him with surprise. “So in two minutes you’ve gone from single-minded vengeance to potentially seeking audience with the chief.”
“You could put it that way.” Killing the royals, Jonas was realizing soberly, would have been a glorious moment of vengeance—a blaze of glory. But it would do nothing to help his people chart a new course for a brighter future. That was what Tomas would have wanted above all else.
Halli Sveinsson has grown up in the House of Svein, hearing the legends of the heroes as all his forefathers did. Theirs is a peaceful society, where the violence of the past has been outlawed and disputes are settled by the Council. But young Halli has never quite seemed to fit in with the others. For starters, he is neither handsome nor tall, like his siblings. He’s stumpy and swarthy, with a quick mind and an aptitude for getting into trouble. Bored with everyday chores and sheepherding, he can’t help playing practical jokes on everyone, from Eyjolf, the old servant, to his brother and sister. But when he plays a trick on Ragnar of the House of Hakon, he goes too far, setting in motion a chain of events that will forever alter his destiny. Because of it, Halli will have to leave home and go on a hero’s quest. Along the way, he will encounter highway robbers, terrifying monsters, and a girl who may be as fearless as he is. In the end he will discover the truth about the legends, his family, and himself.
In between his Bartimaeus trilogy and his Lockwood & Co. series, Stroud wrote this little Norse fantasy. Heroes of the Valley is, unfortunately, not a good representation of Stroud as an author, in my opinion. It’s not particularly funny, the main character is unlikeable for a good three quarters of the book, and the ending reveal is so random and strange that it falls flat on its face.
Halli is probably one of the most aggravating protagonists to read because he’s selfish, oafish, and unlikeable up to about the culmination of the plot, which happens close to the end of the book. Then he becomes fairly awesome, but it’s a sudden change, one that you can accept because of what he’s been through but still squint sideways at and wonder how, exactly, he changed so suddenly. I did like Aud, though. I don’t usually like female characters like her, but Aud was great.
Reading Heroes of the Valley after reading something like The Screaming Staircase is disappointing. It’s disappointing because I know Stroud is a better author than what this book shows. Heroes of the Valley is so generic, so absent of any of Stroud’s usual plot tricks and characterization that it almost feels as if it was written by a completely different person. To be honest, if this was the first book of Stroud’s I had picked up, I likely would not have picked up anything else of his. I’d recommend Stroud’s other works—but not this. There are better books to read.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Violence, death, rude humor.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“Are there roads beyond the cairns?”
The old woman blinked. “Roads? Whatever do you mean?”
“Old ones that the settlers took. To get to this valley in the days before Svein. To other valleys, other people.”
Slowly, bemusedly, she shook her head. ‘If there were trails they will be lost. The settlement was long ago. Besides, there are no other valleys, no other people.”
“How do you know that?”
“How can there be roads, where the Trows are? They devour all who go there.”