Hal is the half-blood son of a warrior father who’s died and a foreign mother who runs an Inn to make ends meet. He’s more slightly built than the other Skandian lads but is intelligent and skilled at making things. Hal is left leading the third of the year’s brotherbands: all those not chosen for the other two bands. His natural leadership and ability to think gives his otherwise mismatched comrades a fighting chance against the more obviously gifted members of the other two teams. With his ingenuity and his bandmates’ various skills, they consistently do as well as, if not better than, the other teams. All the while, Hal is taking advice from his father’s old comrade Thorn, in the art of fighting so he’ll be able to hold his own against his enemy the bully Tursgud.

Well you can’t but recommend a book like this. It’s fairly oozing with virtues and values. While there are a couple of girls fluttering their eyelashes in the background, the whole story focuses on a band of boys going through a rite of passage, manning up to become adult Skandians. Notwithstanding the sly tricks and bully-boy tactics of one of the teams, it’s all good clean fun and the best man wins.

Hal is the classic underdog-come-good. He’s got everything against him: undersized and not a natural fighter, he’s further handicapped by being the son of a foreigner: his Aleutian mother Karina. On top of that, he has oddly lateral ideas about how to make things. All of which, of course, makes him perfect prey for Tursgud and his bullying friends. Hal makes good use of his wits and of his teammates’ differing qualities to come out on top. At the same time, the book doesn’t shy away from the manly arts of combat: Hal has Thorn, the former warrior down on his luck, show him a few things about fighting. And he has to work at it, too. There’s no first-time knockout for the young Hero.

Interestingly the story finishes not with glory but with disgrace as the victorious Brotherband fails in its first mission and is banished to recover what was stolen. I don’t say that girls will actively dislike this story, but certainly boys will like it better: a disadvantaged lad who overcomes the prejudice direct against him and builds himself and his team up to beat the more obvious candidates.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.