The Secrets of Valhalla

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
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Fantasy with Norse gods lacks clarity.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some Norse and Roman god history, including the names of gods and day guardians and what they're known for, as well as why there's bad blood between Odin and Loki.

Positive Messages

Bravery and friendship are important here. So are knowing when to trust friends and facing fears.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Buzz and Mary make a good team for a quest. After they decide to trust each other, they handle challenges bravely and resourcefully.

Violence & Scariness

A dragon kidnaps a woman and nearly kills a wolf in a battle. A man tries to kill a wolf with a sword. Talk of the end of the world. Skeletons litter a tunnel. Another tunnel conjures a person's worst fears. The main character fears that he's going to kill his father. Two near drownings and imprisonment. Bullying -- a boy is pelted with tomatoes. Another's phone is thrown in a toilet. The main character's mom is missing. Talk of Norse myths that include the vengeful killing of Odin's son and Loki being imprisoned for it.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Secrets of Valhalla is a fantasy steeped in Norse mythology by Jasmine Richards (The Book of Wonders).While the storytelling is confusing, the violence is milder than mythological stories by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series). On a quest to save the world from the whims of awakening Norse gods, a boy and girl see a dragon kidnap a woman, watch a man try to kill a wolf with a sword, step on skeletons in a tunnel, and see some of their worst fears -- the boy thinks he sees himself killing his father in the future.

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What's the story?

When Buzz meets Mary, a new girl at school, they click somehow. He decides to walk her home through Tangley Woods, and both spot the strangest thing: the local weatherwoman who had been declared missing tied to an enormous tree by a fire rope. But that's not the weirdest thing about the encounter. She claims to be the Norse day guardian, Sunna, who'd been slumbering in the weatherwoman's body. But then Loki broke free from his prison, and her godly alter ego had to emerge to stop him. She and the other day guardians need to gather back their power that's been trapped in ruins and hidden. They all need their runes and restored power to defeat Loki. Before they can free Sunni and help her, she's whisked away by a dragon into the underworld. Buzz and Mary don't know what to do to help, so they go home. After no one believes Buzz, he tries to forget the whole thing, but things just keep getting stranger. Without the day guardians around, he keeps waking up on the same Saturday morning, and only Mary and Buzz seem to notice.

Is it any good?

Even following a tried-and-true formula of modern kids having mythological adventures, this story is too lacking in fundamental areas to make it work. SECRETS OF VALHALLA never takes off because it doesn't take the time to build this world or the characters in it. Readers never have a chance to be in awe of the mysteries of Tangley woods because author Jasmine Richards doesn't fully describe it or why Buzz's father is so entranced by it. And each time Buzz and his sidekick Mary travel to a cloud palace or an undersea kingdom, readers will be too lost in her lack of careful description to be awed by the author's creativity.

A sense of the characters on the landscape she creates is also missing, as are thoughtful descriptions of characters and their motivations. It's hard to ever feel grounded in this story. Even or perhaps especially in fantasy realms, you have to ground the writing enough to tell a compelling story. A winning formula won't do all the work.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Norse mythology. Did you learn anything new about the Norse gods from reading this story?

  • Kids who read a lot of fantasy can talk about world-building. Did you get a clear sense of this Norse world colliding with our own? Why, or why not? Which authors do you think are the best at creating worlds?

  • What is your favorite mythology series? What is it about mythology that still enthralls readers?

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Themes & Topics

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For kids who love fantasy amd mythology

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