Review: Secrets of Valhalla

Secrets of Valhalla by Jasmine Richards (HarperCollins, January 2016)

There are places where the elements of myth and magic gather in the world.  One such place is Crowmarsh, particularly the Tangley Woods where Buzz and his family live.  Not that Buzz has any interest in mythology. His myth obsessed father  would rather spend his time wandering about the forest doing research than being a dad.  With his mom missing and things just going plain wrong in his family, Buzz isn’t interested in mythology, he just wants to get on with school, playing sports and avoiding the bullies. But his luck is just really bad when it comes to things this particular Friday the thirteenth.  And when he and the new girl at school stumble into undeniable evidence of something magical–quite possibly mythical in the woods nearby, Buzz might just have to accept that this stuff is real.

It turns out one of the Seven Day Guardians has been kidnapped by Loki and his dragon.  Sunna is the guardian of Sunday, and until she is freed, Sunday won’t arrive.  Now the world is stuck in a time loop of an endlessly repeating Saturday.  But only Buzz and his friend Mary seem to be aware that anything strange is going on at all.  Only they know that Sunna has been captured.  Only they know Loki is after the other guardians.   And it looks like they may be the only ones capable of fixing it. With the help of a divine squirrel  and the world tree itself, the two must go in search of help from the other gods.  They need to find the other day guardians and the Runes of Valhalla before Loki does.  But the trickster god is closer at every turn.  Can Buzz free the other guardians from their sleep and rally them to defeat Loki again?

Norse and Roman mythology intermingle in this mythic adventure.  The point in space where myth and legends gather and overlap reminds me of an adult fantasy I read years back called Mythago Wood.  It’s a similar idea, although the actual story arcs and characters are distinctly different.  Secrets of Valhalla is one of the first times I’ve seen Roman gods and Norse gods both part of the same adventure and world setting, so it’s an interesting twist on the contemporary mythology trend.  The author provides imaginative and updated modern takes on the gods that allow them to be recognizable while providing an interesting introduction to how each one functions in this time and space.

Buzz and Mary are likable but pretty ordinary kids for the most part.  Buzz is an unfortunate kid with a run of bad luck and quite a few things to be angry about right now. Mary is a quirky girl who often says what ever is on her mind and has trouble with being taken seriously or not seen as crazy.   Rather than a host of special gifts to make sure they succeed, our heroes have to use their wits and endurance to keep ahead of Loki and try to locate the other guardians.  And while both our characters wind up changed by the adventure, they’re still solidly kids throughout.   Jasmine Richards combines old myths with modern interpretations on the stories and characters, and also with technology itself.  My particular favorite is the god Jupiter living in a datacloud and our heroes having to tackle the EarthWorm  in order to retrieve several of the runes.  The EarthWorm reminds me of a rather more wild form of the butterfly from The Last Unicorn, spouting pop culture phrases left and right as it goes (how many do you recognize?).  I think that chapter may be my overall favorite part of the story.

Things are not quite as predictable as one might expect and there are more than a few twists and turns afoot before we reach the conclusion!  Savvy readers will probably guess at least a few of the plot twists from the clues dropped along the way, but it’s still a fun romp from start to finish.  A wild contemporary adventure tale that blends humor and action that’s sure to please middle grade readers.   While it would probably be useful for those readers to have passing knowledge of Roman and Norse mythology, it’s not entirely necessary–but it does make it easier to keep track of what’s going on and who’s who!  Everything wraps up quite satisfactorily at the end of the story . . . but I’ve got to wonder if Buzz is done with adventuring just yet.  Guess we’ll have to see!

Happy reading !^_^

I received this galley in return for an honest review from the author.

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: January 2016

ISBN13:   9780062010094

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on March 29, 2016, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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