I have recommended The Ranger’s Apprentice so many times to friends, I can’t believe I haven’t raved about it on the blog! Today, I will fix that.
The Ranger’s Apprentice, by John Flanagan, is set in a country much like medieval England. The series opens with Will, a young man who must choose his vocation in his fief. He’s an orphan, and much too small to be a knight, but he desperately wants to do something noble. Ultimately, Will joins the Ranger Corp, a mysterious group known for their skill in battle and surveillance. Over the course of his training and service, Will learns important lessons about loyalty, bravery, and wit. Yes, swords and arrows play a major role, but so do friendship and humor.
What I like
All of my children, including my daughter, devoured the series. Since they loved the books so much, I’m listening to them now, and at five books in, I have no intention to stop! Here’s what I like:
- Compelling characters Will demonstrates courage, thoughtfulness, and just enough mistakes to keep him interesting. His mentor Halt, the best known Ranger in the kingdom, demands much of Will, but softens his grim nature with dry, witty humor. Will’s engaging personality earns him a variety of friends, from a Viking-like sea-captain to a beautiful ambassador of the king. Although these books clearly fall into the genre of fantasy adventure, character development never suffers.
- Humor I love a witty quip, and Flanagan gives his characters many humorous lines. At times the narrative goes to dark, intense places. Flanagan skillfully uses comic relief to keep the story enjoyable.
- Themes Because of the setting and age of the characters, Flanagan can explore typical issues of childhood and adolescence in fresh ways. In one book, Will is sold into slavery and becomes addicted to “warm weed”, a drug that makes him feel warm and happy in his frigid working conditions. It also increases his compliance, changing him from a bright, confident young man into a mindless automaton who lives only for his next dose of the weed. His good friend Cassandra grieves over the change in Will and nurses him out of his addiction. This story line gives tweens and teens exposure to the perils of substance abuse without becoming too graphic or preachy. Some other themes addressed include bullying, responsibility, and courage.
- Plot Flanagan deftly balances action with character development. Excellent pacing keeps the stories interesting, and the narrative, at least through book 5, never follows a formula. Some books have one plot line, others weave two or three with a satisfying culmination. In almost every book, something unexpected pops up at the end.
- Lots of books! I don’t know why, but many kids I know gravitate towards series. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, the satisfaction of knowing there’s more to enjoy. As I mentioned above, The Ranger’s Apprentice has thirteen books, and its companion series, The Brotherband Chronicles, has five books. Brotherband tells stories about the Skandian people who live to the north of Will and his countrymen. That’s eighteen books, enough to keep readers busy for at long time.
What I don’t like
Sometimes, Flanagan explains too much for me. He shows Halt’s sarcasm with a short, dry remark, but then tells me that Halt is being sarcastic. This interrupts the flow. The books are kid lit, so perhaps Flanagan feels the need to be direct, but I think most sharp readers will understand.
If you have a child between the ages of eight and thirteen, put The Ranger’s Apprentice in their hands. Even girls should like this – most of the female characters are smart, strong, and demonstrate great self-confidence. John Keating provides excellent narration of the audio books. Get The Ranger’s Apprentice for your next family road trip.
Have you read The Ranger’s Apprentice? Can you recommend other great fantasy/adventure stories?
Thanks for stopping by! Julia