The Ghost of Shadow Vale by Jonathan Stroud

9/10 The perfect read near a roaring fire with a slice of cake and a hot drink.

When Thorhall finds he can't get anyone to be his shepherd in Shadow Vale, he is advised by Skapti the Lawgiver to enlist the help of Glam, a huge man who he is sure will be a worthy employee. Tales are abounding of a monster wandering the hills at night, so no one wants to risk death working for him. Sure enough, Glam agrees to be his shepherd, but on one condition, he leaves him alone to get on with his work.

Glam isn't the nicest of men. He's dark, brooding and snappy with Thorhall and anyone who annoys him - including Thorhill's wife. The reason they put up with him is due to no one else wanting to be his shepherd due to the monster. Only Glam doesn't get scared easily by the thought of a monster until he comes face to face with it - and in the snowstorm, after a fight dies. There are footprints all around where Glam is and laid over him, blood trailing to show he has managed to hurt it. Eager to bury Glam's corpse, they lay stones on it, but the villagers start to get nervous when there are sightings of Glam stalking the fields. Talk of Glam spread far and wide and with no one to stop him, the villagers and those surrounding them were living in fear. Word of the monster spreads to Grettir Asmunderson, one of the strongest men in Iceland. Grettir makes his move to visit Shadow Vale and the halls of Thorhall to see if he can defeat the ghost that haunts it.

Grettir might be the strongest man in Iceland and be feared by many, but a man can be influenced by another and not in a good way. The Ghost of Shadow Vale is a cautionary tale from a land that is famed for its berserkers and its Viking warriors. There are two tales in this novel, one about the monster in Shadow Vale and the other of its ghost and the one who might be strong enough to take it out. At the start, the story sounds like it might have been told by one of the villagers and is a story without a happy ending. When you think about it, if Glam had not come to rid them of the monster, many more innocent people would have died. Then again, if he had not, Shadow Vale would never have had a ghost haunting it.

With a scary cover image from artist Siku, showing ghostly Glam ready to fight the monster, there are interior illustrations in ink drawn by the same artist in a shonen manga style. Jonathan Stroud's The Ghost of Shadow Vale is the perfect read near a roaring fire with a slice of cake and a hot drink. All Barrington Stoke novels are designed to be dyslexia friendly and other titles are; The Goblin of Tara by Oisin McGann, Young Merlin by Tony Bradman, Thor and the Master of Magic by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Samurai by Ian Beck.

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