The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan, was published in 2005 by Philomel.
They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers with their dark cloaks and mysterious ways. Folks in the village claim that Rangers have the power to become invisible at will. A skill Will would now dearly love to have. Will’s heart had been set on Battleschool, on becoming a hero to the kingdom. But Will is small for his fifteen years, too small to be a warrior. He possesses other skills, though—a Ranger’s skills. He can move silent as a shadow. He can climb. And he is brave. He will need all these skills and more. For Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces. A battle for the kingdom is destined to begin. A battle the likes of which Will cannot even imagine.
I first stumbled across the Ranger’s Apprentice series a few years ago. I’m not sure what caused me to start reading them; the pull towards the word “apprentice,” perhaps, or the vaguely appealing summary. Whatever it was, I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan—and fell headfirst into the world of Will and of the Rangers.
The world of Ranger’s Apprentice is an alternate universe, of sorts, to ours: Araluen is England, Gallica is France, Skandia is Scandinavia. Having more recently read the Brotherband series (the companion series to Ranger’s Apprentice), I’d forgotten how supernatural/vaguely eerie these first couple of books are. The Ruins of Gorlan starts with a shadowy evil lord moody over the loss of his kingdom and wanting revenge, dives immediately into descriptions of “Wargals” (groan) that bring up bad memories of Eragon and other LotR-imitations, and basically starts in a basic “bad fantasy” way.
And then Will comes into the picture, and Horace, and Halt, and incredibly precise and detailed maneuvers and fights are described, and suddenly not only do you realize that, holy smokes, John Flanagan knows his stuff, but you’ve forgotten the bad fantasy vibes and are only swept up in a “give me more of this awesomely intricate way of sneaking up on someone” feeling.
At least, that’s my experience with The Ruins of Gorlan.
The best part is that the books only get better from here, and I’m looking forward to seeing that improvement. The Ruins of Gorlan is a good start—but there’s a little too much of that bad fantasy vibe attached to it for it to be fantastic. But that’s okay, because then the series has the opportunity to sneak up on you just like a Ranger would. Suddenly, without warning, and being incredibly awesome.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Will coughed again.
“Got a cold, boy?” asked the Ranger, without turning around.
“Then why are you coughing?” asked Halt, turning around to face him. Will hesitated. “Well, sir,” he began uncertainly, “I just wanted to ask you…what does a Ranger actually do?”
“He doesn’t ask pointless questions, boy!” said Halt. “He keeps his eyes and ears open and he looks and listens and eventually, if he hasn’t got too much cotton wool between his ears, he learns!”
“Oh,” said Will. “I see.” He didn’t, and even though he realized that this was probably no time to ask more questions, he couldn’t help himself, repeating, a little rebelliously, “I just wondered what Rangers do, is all.”