Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Those Pesky Apprentices

Well, I've been somewhat lacking in inspiration from my latest reads, skipping around from book to book in an attempt to find something that appeals.  I've finally settled on my next book, but in the meantime I need to force myself to write a post. So, this week's book post will focus on the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan.  I read most of this series a few months ago, so instead of doing a separate book per post, I'm going to go for the whole enchilada (okay, I haven't gotten to the most recent two books, but 4/5 of an enchilada just doesn't sound as good).

The Basics
I'm going to eschew my usual MLA bibliography format this time around, since I don't actually have a particular copy of any of these books on hand.  Also, I'm writing about 8 books here.  In order the books are The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, The Icebound Land, The Battle for Skandia, The Sorcerer in the North, The Siege of Macindaw, Erak's Ransom, and The Kings of Clonmel.  The latest three books in the series are Halt's PerilThe Emperor of Nihon-Ja, and the most recent addition, The Lost Stories, but as I haven't read those yet, we'll be ignoring them in this post.

This young adult series is written by Australian author, John Flanagan, and features the story of Will, a boy who becomes an apprentice Ranger.  The books are set in a medieval-inspired world clearly modeled on the British Isles, Europe and Scandinavia. The Rangers are a peace-keeping force that protects the kingdom from both internal and external threats and are made up of small, quick fighters trained in marksmanship and being sneaky. (So, yeah, pretty fun).

The Books
One of my favorite aspects of these books is getting to see Will's journey as a character.  It fulfills part of that going-to-Hogwarts gap that now exists in my reading life (yes, I am aware of my sheer and utter nerdiness).  Over the course of the series, we get to watch Will become an apprentice Ranger; be trained in nifty things like archery, stealth, and marksmanship; become a full-fledged Ranger with a fief of his own to patrol; and, most lately, form part of a special-ops team within the Rangers.  Watching the training is both intriguing and exciting, and it fully submerges readers in Will's world, taking us through the training right along with Will and setting our imaginations to work.

Flanagan's characters are also particularly engaging.  Will is fun because readers get to learn right along with him, making him a very relatable character. He's far from perfect, which also adds to the believability; for example, sometimes his curiosity, typically a strength, leads him into trouble, or his friendship with Horace turns to a slight bit of jealousy tinged admiration. He lacks any smarmy traits or delusions of grandeur, seeking and receiving help from his cohorts on a regular basis, which adds a touch of realism to the story.  Each character has their own strengths that contribute to the successful solution of each book's particular dilemma, and Will is adept at utilizing those strengths and asking for help when he needs it.  My other favorite character is Will's mentor, Ranger Halt, who adds the spice of mystery to things.  Halt teaches by guiding Will to learn on his own rather than being told or lectured. Over the course of the books we slowly get to know Halt and learn more about his history, a process which suits his mysterious, taciturn and prickly nature.

Flanagan is also particularly skilled at drawing his readers into the action of the books by getting us invested in the plot line and engaged in the ongoing battles.  At times, every page I read only added to my suspense until I was galloping headlong to the conclusion of the book, reading as quickly as I could without missing anything.  The author is particularly good at battle scenes, writing with such vivid detail that you can fully picture and understand the battle.  I found this especially refreshing, since battle scenes often grow boring when extended; Flanagan's highly detailed descriptions avoid this pitfall by keeping the battles interesting.  It also helps that he doesn't often repeat actions in the battle scenes, which keeps things fresh and prevents readers from turning the page and thinking, "oh boy, another battle."

If you're going to dip into this series (which I highly recommend you do), start at the beginning.  Many of the books follow right off of events from the previous installment, so skipping around could easily leave you feeling lost (dazed and confused, even).  There is one exception to this, however.  I recommend reading the seventh book, Erak's Ransom, before moving on to the fifth book, The Sorcerer in the North. The fifth book follows a time skip, abruptly moving Will up from apprentice to full Ranger without detailing the intervening year or so. Flanagan later fills in this gap with the seventh book, Erak's Ransom, and, once I discovered this, I found it much more enjoyable to read the books in chronological order rather than bibliographic order.

Overall, these books are very enjoyable and engaging reads.  They prove yet again that not all books written for a young adult audience should be restricted to that age range.  Instead, this series can appeal to a much wider (and adult) audience.

  • I highly recommend the author's website for the series, which features a spiffy interactive map of Will's world on the home page.  Did I mention there were games?
  • Teachers!  There's a classroom guide featured on the website for using the books in the classroom.
  • And, don't forget to visit the Australian publisher's website for the books! This includes a link to Flanagan's upcoming series also set in Will's world.
  • Lastly, below are the covers for the most recent three books, not covered in this blog post.


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