Ranger’s Apprentice

For last week’s Teen Book Group, we read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, first in the Ranger’s Apprentice series.  I’d been meaning to read this book for a while, just so I could know what the kids are so excited about (the series is extremely popular at the library), but hadn’t gotten around to it until C. suggested it as a book group book.  And now I am completely and totally hooked, and have read the first three books in the series (The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, The Ice-Bound Land) and am on my way to pick up the fourth book, The Battle For Skandia.

What’s so great about these books?  I’ll admit that they’re not the best-written or best-edited books ever, but that’s not what they purport to be: they’re bestsellers, and proud of it, and better written than many bestsellers that I’ve read.  Flanagan is a master of drama and plot, and also does a great job creating and developing his characters.  I love that his characters have very real flaws, like Halt, the adult who should know better, encouraging young Horace to beat up the bullies who had been tormenting him.  And his characters grow and develop and surprise even themselves (think Horace at the end of book two here).

But what I love most about this series is that Flanagan doesn’t fall into the Harry Potter trap of structuring each book the same way (i.e., each of the Harry Potter books covered one year of school at Hogwarts).  Flanagan could easily have had each of his books cover a year of Will’s apprenticeship, with each year culminating in a Big Battle of some sort, but instead he wisely chose to write the series as one adventure leading into the next.  Without giving too much away, I was pleased to see that Will and Halt are not existing as apprentice and master at the end of the third book; they are separated, and the story is the better for it.  I can’t guess where we’re headed in the fourth book, and that makes me want to read it even more (now I understand the frustration of the series’ fans who know the next book has been published in Australia, but not yet here in the U.S.).

The Teen Book Group also loved The Ruins of Gorlan, and several of the book group members have become hooked on the series.  We unanimously agreed that the books are engaging, fun, and exciting, and we all thanked C. for recommending them.  The group’s only complaint?  The cover art is too dull and doesn’t draw you in.  After much discussion, we decided that the cover art for the British versions of the books is by far the best (the Australian covers are too young, the American covers are too dark and boring).  Bad cover art, though, is a pretty minor flaw, and it was refreshing to have found a book that we could all agree on and enjoy.  And now it’s time for me to go pick up that fourth book…

3 thoughts on “Ranger’s Apprentice”

  1. Funny you should write about this–I’m working on a blog post mentioning it too. I’m on the third book in the series, got into it, then away, then came back. I really prefer the audio for this series–Australian narrator who is amazing and really adds to how I think the characters look.

    I give this to all the moms going “he likes short books…” or “he doesn’t read”…trust me, he’ll read these.

  2. I actually didn’t realize it was on audio (we mostly use Listening Library for our collection) – I’ll have to look into getting these on CD for our library. There would be a LOT of interest in having these as books on CD.

    Though for me, personally, audio doesn’t work: I don’t process books well that way, I’m pretty much an exclusively visual learner.

  3. I also have just finnished reading the Icebound land and have read the previous two books in the series. I agree with you in that it was clever Flanagan didn’t write each book as one seperate year of Will’s training, but rather connected each novel to make the series one large adventure. However, I don’t think it does the cycle any good by having Will and Halt still seperated at the end of the third book. It makes the it seem as if it was just a carry over novel and therefore weak in itself, even if it is meant for the good of the series as a whole. For example, all that Desparnieux stuff was fine, but should have only lasted a few chapters, not half the book! In the grand scheme of things, that stuff was pretty irrelavant. In the third book though, I did like how Flanagan developed the Skandians as sort of ‘in the middle characters’ (not to good and not to evil) because in that world where all the characters had been either to obviously good ( i.e Halt, Will, the Baron, Duncan) or to obviously evil(Morgarath,Desparnieux) he needed to mix it up a bit. Overall, like you, I think that the writing is okay, but that the story itself is extremley fun and engaging with some great plotlines. I know its only a childrens book (I am only a 10th grader myself) but I do wish he wouldn’t state so much about each character’s moral growths and inner thoughts in descriptive text, but instead let the character’s actions and dialogue speak for itself. So far I would say that the Burning Bridge has been the best of the three I’ve read, then the Ruins of Gorlan (for a setup book it was highly entertaining), and that the Icebound Land has been the weakest. Nevertheless, I am eagerly awaiting to buy the fourht book, and in fact plan to do so tommorow mornig.

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