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Witty and cinematic storytelling propels Stroud's engrossing novel, set in a medieval world that recalls Norse epics-no gods, but plenty of heroes to go around. Twelve Houses control sections of a valley. Halli Sveinsson-at 15, the youngest child of the rulers of the House of Svein-goes against tradition when he sets out to avenge the death of his murdered uncle, and his actions result in warfare among Houses for the first time in generations. Halli, "a cumbersome stump of a boy," is a quick-witted, appealing underdog and troublemaker ("Leif needs no sabotage from me," he quips. "If he manages two sentences without tripping over his trailing knuckles he will have exceeded my expectations"). Smart, funny dialogue and prose, revealing passages about the exploits of the hero Svein, bouts of action and a touch of romance briskly move the story along. Offering more than just a grand adventure (which the tale certainly is), Stroud (the Bartimaeus Trilogy) explores the consequences behind legend-worthy acts of glory and the power and peril of blind faith and hero-worship. Ages 10-up. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.