Heart of Valor is set a year and a half after the events of the previous book in this two-part series (though both can be read as stand-alone novels), in which four siblings helped the sorceress Morgana Shee prevent the evil sorcerer Cadal Forge from emerging through her magic teleporting mirrors and causing havoc on the world. At the end of ‘Night of the Solstice’ the doorways to the Wildworld were closed, Cadal was destroyed, and his ally Thia Pendriel managed to escape with the immensely powerful Heart of Valor, a magical gemstone.
All has been quiet since then, with the quirky Janie studying magic under Morgana’s guidance, Claudia enjoying her newfound gift to speak to animals, and Alys and Charles simply getting on with their lives. But after what seems like a typical Californian earthquake, the children and the sorceress begin to suspect that Thia is up to something — perhaps trying to re-open the portal between the Wildworld and the Stillworld. Morgana hurries north in order to prevent her, while the children begin to experience dangers of their own — the park is now full of strange and dangerous creatures, bizarre signs can be seen in the sky, and finally their house is attacked by groups of strange elementals. With the sword Caliborn, that gives Alys dreams of ancient Arthurian lore, the children hurry to find Morgana and help prevent Thia from whatever she is planning next…
If in the last book you thought the name ‘Morgana Shee’ rang a bell, your suspicions will be put to rest here — in the Arthurian legends that L.J. Smith mixes into this book, Morgana plays the part of Morgan LeFay and the Lady of Lake, set against the tricky, but somewhat malevolent Merlin, in an interesting re-working of the old myths.
However, the structure of this book is rather shaky — after conveniently disposing of the children’s parents via an overseas voyage, the children do not participate in much of the action till over halfway through the book when they go after Morgana, and the events occurring in the Wildworld (when it should get really interesting) are jammed into the last few chapters of the book. What was supposed to be the climactic showdown between Morgana and Thia lasts less than a paragraph, and the ending is so hurriedly wrapped-up that readers might feel a bit short changed (plus confused at how Alys plans to spend a year in the Wildworld without her parent’s knowledge).
L.J. Smith‘s protagonists are always female — three of her four children are girls, and she’s at a complete loss as how to handle her only named male character Charles, who ends up being merely a device to draw yet another female character — Elwyn Silverhair — into the plot. I’m all for strong female roles (I am a girl, by the way), but Smith doesn’t to much to extend her reading material to the opposite of sex. If you’re a parent looking to get your son/nephew/grandson/whatever interested in books, unfortunately Heart of Valor probably won’t help you out.
However, despite its faults, this book is a reasonable, entertaining read, and on par with its predecessor Night of the Solstice. L.J. Smith went on to better fame with her teenage-horror-romance novels, but there are a few hints of her books to come in her first fantasy novels, for instance: the dog attack here resembles that in The Fury, Claudia’s ability to speak to animals is like that of Anna Whiteraven’s in the Dark Visions trilogy, and the name ‘Thia’ pops up again in her Night World book Spellbinder, with different spelling: ‘Thea’.