Heroes of the Valley
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This issue’s cover illustration by Helen Oxenbury is from Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (Walker, 978 1 4063 1592 9, £10.99 hbk). Helen Oxenbury writes about her illustration here. Thanks to Walker Books for their help with this January cover.
Images of super-competent, flawless heroes willing and able to deliver their communities from evil are in short supply these days, not just in party political propaganda but also in children’s adventure stories. In fiction, while epic battles and last moment recoveries still exist, they are now more likely to feature leading characters battling to overcome not only their eternal enemies but also their own many imperfections. Dominic Barker’s three wonderfully funny Blart novels have led the field in depictions of unwilling, not to say inadvertent heroism, but they are now seriously challenged by Jonathan Stroud’s constantly entertaining Heroes of the Valley. Young Halli, his main character, is a squat, ugly and bandy-legged adolescent with an ability to enrage the rest of his family worthy of William Brown in his prime. He is also the cause rather than the cure for much of what goes wrong in the tight little society where everyone in the wild valley within which this story is set lives in fear of venturing outside their borders in case the murderous, sub-human Trows get them. While never actually seen by anyone, these creatures play a large part in the constantly invoked stories about the legendary heroes who founded the twelve adjoining communities that now co-exist in peace. The time is nowhere, and while everyone has vaguely Scandinavian names, no nationality is specified. Determined to act the vengeful hero, Halli is soon brought up short when reality hits him. But fortified by Aud, a sparky girl from a neighbouring community, he eventually makes amends for all the trouble he has brought about. Rejecting the flawed heroic myths that once ruled their lives, Halli and Aud disappear together at the end having first saved their society from destruction. As always, Stroud writes like a dream, passing from instant amusement to a sense of real suspense with apparent ease. Those who eagerly awaited this next novel after his superb Bartimaeus trilogy will not be disappointed.