The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

The Royal Ranger, by John Flanagan, was published in 2013 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Lost Stories.

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected. Fighting his person demons, Will has to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

Rating: 3/5

The Royal Ranger is a good, albeit not entirely necessary, ending to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It has a tight plot, the same memorable descriptions and hijinks (although toned down a little bit), lots of character development, and introduces a female Ranger. Starting with plot, the main thread of the story was clear and developed well. It perhaps wasn’t as epic in scope as the stand-alone plots of Erak’s Ransom or The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, but since the book is massive, there’s quite a lot of meat to it. It’s convenient that the person Will was looking for just so happened to be so heavily involved, but let’s chalk that up to Flanagan being reluctant to leave things uncertain (and prevent even more page length).

I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly necessary. It’s nice to see the old heroes “all grown up,” but since Madelyn’s training is practically the same as Will’s (though Flanagan realizes this and does a few things differently) and since this is clearly not a reboot of the series I don’t really understand why Flanagan felt the need to tell this story. Unless fans were begging him for a female Ranger and this was the result. I really don’t feel like a continuation was necessary; The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a fine finale and the series really didn’t need a “20 years” later addition. (Also, how does Will have “steel-gray” hair? Assuming he was 20 in Emperor, that would make him 40 in this one, which is normally not a time when someone has completely gray hair. And his dog is still alive, which seems to say it’s been less than 20 years, which would put him in his 30s.Unless he prematurely grayed because of all the stuff he’s done. Or he was way older in Emperor than I thought).

I also found myself missing certain characters. The book focuses only on Will and Madelyn, with the other familiar characters only showing up at the beginning and end. The absence of Horace and Halt really stood out, as there was much less humor and verbal sparring.

I liked The Royal Ranger, but I found it unnecessary and a bit of a setback. After 10 books, I really don’t need Ranger training and technique explained to me again. There was also less humor and I really missed Horace and Halt. Madelyn was a good character, but as Flanagan doesn’t seem to be planning to reboot the series, she’s also an unnecessary one.

I’ll be reviewing more Flanagan, and I haven’t decided if it will be the prequels to this series (The Early Years) or if it will be Brotherband. I think I might take a break from Halt and Rangers and hang out with Skandians. Brotherband will be a nice change of pace.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“[Will] needs to take on an apprentice,” [Halt] said.

They all turned to look at him. The idea, once stated, seemed so obvious. Both Horace and Pauline nodded. This was what they had been getting at, without realizing it.

Gilan looked hopeful for a few seconds, then shook his head in frustration.

“Problem is,” he said, “we have no suitable candidates at the moment. And we can’t offer him someone substandard. He’ll simply refuse to take on someone who’s not up to scratch and he’ll be right. I won’t be able to blame him for that.”

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The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

The Lost Stories, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Emperor of Nihon-Ja.

They were mysterious. Some claim they were merely the stuff of legend—the Rangers with their mottled green-and-gray cloaks and their reputation as defenders of the Kingdom. Reports of their brave battles vary, but we know of at least ten accounts, most of which feature the boy—turned man—named Will and his mentor, Halt. There are reports, as well, of others who fought alongside the Rangers, such as the young warrior Horace, a courageous process named Evanlyn, and a cunning diplomat named Alyss. Yet this crew left very little behind and their existence has never been able to be proved. Until now, that is…Behold the Lost Stories.

Rating: 2/5

I thought that The Lost Stories was a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it’s not. It’s actually a bunch of filler stories, telling stories about what the characters were up to in the time between The Emperor of Nihon-Ja and The Royal Ranger, the next and last book. Some of the stories are prequels, but most of them tell about things like Horace’s wedding, Will’s wedding, and other odds-and-ends.

As a collection of filler stories, The Lost Stories stands out as a filler book, ultimately unnecessary and only important for completionists’ sake. I enjoyed the stories, but their shortness and the switch from one issue to another made everything choppy and disjointed. Plus, I’ve never liked the “talking horses” aspect of Ranger’s Apprentice and there is too much of that going on in multiple stories.

My favorite story is the one with Jenny because it was so strange and hilariously random. There’s another good one, too, where Will decides to use a bigger vocabulary, and then Horace’s wedding is also fairly memorable. The rest, however, are mostly forgettable and I think in one or two of them Flanagan forgets his own worldbuilding (or I’m misremembering details). It’s nice to get a look at some of the early years, but it’s not entirely necessary—especially since Flanagan now has a spin-off series dealing with young Halt.

The Lost Stories also serves almost as a set-up for Flanagan’s Brotherband series, which again marks the book as a filler or a bridge rather than as a cohesive, entertaining unit by itself. Of all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I suppose the collection of stories is the best candidate to be the worst book. I’ve never understood the desire of authors to “fill in the gaps,” although I suppose in this case, Flanagan was just trying to extend his ending since The Royal Ranger came afterward. The Lost Stories is a good addition if you like Ranger’s Apprentice, but it doesn’t go beyond mild charm and memorability.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“I’m trying to track down a man called Foldar,” Gilan said. “You may have heard of him.”

Now Philip’s face darkened, anger replacing the former nervousness. “Foldar?” he said. “I’ve never know a man so evil. In my opinion, he was worse than Morgarath himself.”

Gilan looked up quickly. “You knew him?”

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The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Halt’s Peril.

In his brief time as an Araluen warrior, Horace has traveled the known world and fought countless bloody battles. All for his country, his king, and his friends. For all that is right. When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon-Ja to study the Senshi fighting technique, it isn’t long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his—but one he knows in his heart he must wage. The Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, has been forcibly dethroned, and only Horace, Will, and their Araluen friends, along with a group of untrained woodcutters and farmers, can restore the emperor to the throne.

Rating: 3/5

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is the last Ranger’s Apprentice book I’ve read before. And, at least in the edition I read, it’s marketed as the last book. As there are two more books after this one (though one is, I think, a prequel), clearly Flanagan returned to the series due to popular demand. I’ll be looking forward to reading the eleventh and twelfth books and experiencing them for the first time.

But, back to this book. It’s a stand-alone, which is good after the somewhat tiring formula of most of the other books, but I don’t think it’s as solid and engaging as Erak’s Ransom. There are new characters, new obstacles to surmount, and new enemies to defeat, but there’s never once the possibility that the characters might fail. Even when they’re at their lowest point, it’s never doubtful that they will come out on top in the end. Erak’s Ransom at least separated the characters and had them overcome individual obstacles, especially towards the end. Emperor’s separation of characters is not handled as well, with the girls essentially going to fetch a Deus ex Machina to save the day while the rest just waste time until they get back. There’s not really any sense of urgency because by this point, the reader knows that the rescue will come at the last minute.

There’s also some weird sort of time displacement, where Horace’s point of view is actually several months behind the others, but it’s often forgotten and seems as if it’s happening in real time with what’s happening with Will. In addition, since Horace’s chapters pretty much go over the same ground that was covered when the characters explained why they were going after Horace in the first place, some of his chapters feel meaningless, especially the chapter that depicts George going to send a message right after the chapter where Evanlyn explains that George sent a message.

So, perhaps the Ranger’s Apprentice formula is starting to wear a little thin, after all. I’m not saying The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is a bad book. I enjoyed reading it, as I enjoy reading all the Ranger’s Apprentice books. And this book is still better than the first two books in the series. But the formula is starting to get a little bit tiring, which is perhaps the reason why Flanagan switched to writing The Brotherband Chronicles after book twelve (also, there’s a moment in this book where Flanagan clearly took inspiration when writing the Brotherband Chronicles). As a stand-alone, it’s better than most of the Part 1’s in the series, but not as good as any of the Part 2’s or the other stand-alone, Erak’s Ransom (which is still my favorite of them all). I still enjoy the adventures of Horace, Will, Halt and Company, but ten books (or twelve, in this case) is a good time to start wrapping up a series or thinking of something new.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“What’s this Kurokuma business?”

The Senshi looked at [Horace] with a completely straight face.

“It’s a term of great respect,” he said. Several others within earshot nodded confirmation. They too managed to remain straight-faced. It was a skill the Nihon-Jan had perfected.

“Great respect,” one of them echoed. Horace studied them all carefully. Nobody was smiling. But he knew by now that that meant nothing with the Nihon-Jan. He sensed there was a joke that he was missing, but he couldn’t think of a way to find out what it might be. Best maintain his dignity, he thought.

“Well, I should think so,” he told them, and rode on.

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Halt’s Peril by John Flanagan

Halt’s Peril, by John Flanagan, was published in 2010 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.

Rangers walk the line between life and death every day, but never before has that line appeared so thin or death felt so certain. Hot on the trail of the Outsiders—a cult that’s been making its way from kingdom to kingdom, connoting the innocent out of their few valuables—Will and Halt are ambushed by the cult’s deadly assassins. Pierced by a poisoned arrow, Will’s mentor is near death and in dire need of the one antidote that can save his life. Time is not on Will’s side as he journeys day and night through the harsh terrain to Grimsdell Wood in search of the one person with the power to cure Halt: Malkallam the Sorcerer.

Rating: 3/5

The Kings of Clonmel may have been, in my opinion, the best of the “Part 1’s” of Ranger’s Apprentice, but Halt’s Peril may be the worst “Part 2.” That’s not to say the book isn’t good—it’s Ranger’s Apprentice; of course it’s good. But it lacks the intensity of some of the earlier books and the relatively slow pace throughout the middle of the book—despite the fast paced events dealing with Halt being poisoned—drags the plot on a little. It’s weird to say that a book is slow-paced when it’s at its most intense, every-second-counts moment, but something was certainly off about the pacing of this book. Or maybe the problem is that I found the resolution with Tennyson to be unsatisfying and anti-climactic after the exciting parts that came before it.

Speaking of exciting parts, I haven’t read this book in ten or so years and I vividly remembered one scene dealing with Will and the Genovesan right at the tail end of the poisoning plot. As in, I remembered what happened and what the characters said almost exactly—it was such a pivotal, stand-out moment in the book that it stood out to me and remained in my memory even after ten (or so) years. That part of the book shows just how far Will has come—as well as how far he will go to protect the ones he loves. And that ice-cold statement at the end of that particular chapter. Dang. No wonder it stuck in my brain.

I wouldn’t say Ranger’s Apprentice is declining in quality, but Halt’s Peril was a bit of a misstep in several respects. While it featured a gripping, tense plot midway through the book, the lead-up to that part, and the resolution that followed it, weren’t as good, resulting in me having an oddly dissatisfied feeling when I finished. After all that tension, the ending could not stand up to the rest and felt anticlimactic and overly prolonged. I suppose it was only natural that Ranger’s Apprentice would falter a little bit, and I’m glad it happened nine books in as opposed to sooner, but it’s still a little disappointing.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Horace swung the cloak around him delightedly. Even though it was made for Halt’s smaller frame, the Ranger cloaks were of such a capacious design that it fitted him reasonably well. It would be far too short, of course, but on horseback that didn’t matter too much.

“I’ve always wanted one of these,” Horace said, grinning at the cloak. He pulled the deep cowl up over his head, hiding his face in its shadows, and gathered the gray-brown folds around him.

“Can you still see me?” he asked.

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The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan, was published in 2010 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Erak’s Ransom.

When mankind seeks protection from the world’s many dangers, they put their faith in warriors, kings, gods, and even money. In the neighboring kingdom of Clonmel, a mysterious cult has sprung up, promising defense against lawless marauders in exchange for people’s riches. Their sermons are attracting audiences from mils around, but there’s a dark side to this seemingly charitable group, prompting Halt, Will and Horace to investigate. What the trio uncovers could threaten the safety of not only Clonmel, but their homeland of Araluen as well.

Rating: 4/5

The Kings of Clonmel is yet another Part 1 of 2 book, but it’s the best of the Part 1’s, in my opinion. A lot of the intrigue is this book is resolved, but there are still loose threads that will carry over to the next book—which is what makes The Kings of Clonmel a better Part 1 than those that came before it (The Icebound Land and The Sorcerer of the North).

Will continues to grow, but also continues to prove that he is a fully-fledged Ranger who can stand on his own and solve his own problems. Halt is Halt—awesome, but not so awesome that he seems inhuman. He does step in and solve a lot of the other characters’ problems, including Will’s and Horace’s, but it’s much less noticeable and invasive than it seemed at the beginning of the series, especially since Will and Horace can hold their own now. And Flanagan is clearly prepping for what will happen in the next book and the character development that will come about because of it, things that are a little more noticeable if you’ve read the series before. There’s not obvious clues, but there is a little bit of telegraphing, which I think is pretty neat.

The one thing that seems the most out of place or unrealistic in the series, something I noticed most prominently in Erak’s Ransom, is the horses. I’m definitely not an expert on horse training, so I could be way off base, but to me it seemed that the Ranger horses are stretching it a bit in terms of believability. But perhaps horses can actually be trained to react to noises and whatever else the Ranger horses do—it is plausible, but for some reason, in the story I’m not buying it so much.

The Kings of Clonmel is yet another enjoyable, awesome book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. These books are just plain fun to read and it helps that the plot and other details are quite good, as is the world building. This book was the best “Part 1 of 2” in the series, a good sign that Flanagan is continuously improving in his writing—which means better books to come.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“You can swim, I assume?”

“Yes, I can swim,” Colly said. “But I’m not going jumping off some bluff just because you say so!”

“No, no. Of course not. That’d be asking far too much of you. You’ll jump off because if you don’t, I’ll shoot you. It’ll be the same effect, really. If I have to shoot you, you’ll fall off. But I thought I’d give you a chance to survive.” Halt paused, then added, “Oh, and if you decide to run downhill, I’ll also shoot you with an arrow. Uphill and off is really your only chance of survival.”

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Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan

Erak’s Ransom, by John Flanagan, was published in 2007 by Philomel. It is the sequel (but chronologically the prequel) to The Siege of Macindaw.

What does it mean to earn the Silver Oakleaf? So few men have done so. For Will, a mere boy and apprentice to the most difficult Ranger to please, that symbol of honor has long seemed out of reach. If he is to ever earn it, he must prove himself in ways he never imagined. Now, in the wake of Araluen’s uneasy truce with the raiding Skandians comes word that the Skandian leader, Erak, has been captured by a desert tribe. The Rangers, along with a small party of warriors, are sent to free him. But the desert is like nothing else these warriors have seen before. Strangers in a strange land, they are brutalized by sandstorms, beaten by the unrelenting heat, tricked by one tribe that plays by its own rules, and surprisingly befriended by another. Like a mirage, nothing is as it seems. Yet one thing is constant: the bravery of the Rangers.

Rating: 5/5

After four books that were two sets of two-parters, it’s refreshing to read the jam-packed, stand-alone Erak’s Ransom. It actually highlights the weaknesses of the two-parter books, especially the Part 1s, which is the uneven pace and the overly long set-up. Erak’s Ransom, as a “filler” book telling the story of how Will got his silver oakleaf, a story that was skipped over between The Battle for Skandia and The Sorcerer of the North, is understandably a stand-alone—and works phenomenally well because of it.

There are only a few missteps in this book, at least in my opinion, one of them being Tug’s manipulation of another horse during a race. I suppose it’s plausible, but it didn’t quite fit the story, as impressive and heartwarming as the actual moment was. Otherwise, the book is a perfect combination of humor, tension, and action, with enough plausibility behind events that when everything comes together in the end, it’s believable. Flanagan also does quite a bit of foreshadowing, at least with regards to one character, and while it’s a bit of a Chekhov’s Gun, it’s also awesome and very fitting.

I think Erak’s Ransom may be my favorite Ranger’s Apprentice book so far. It’s also the one I remember the most, probably because I also really liked it when I first read it. This is the first stand-alone book since The Icebound Land (arguably the first one in the series, since the first two books connect) and it works: the pace is fast, but not too fast so as to seem rushed, the action is well distributed and the tension is executed well. Erak’s Ransom, being the story of Will becoming a fully-fledged Ranger, is, appropriately enough, also the novel that takes the series to a whole new level.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“You know the old saying: ‘one riot, one Ranger.’”

The saying stemmed from a legendary event in the past. A minor fief had risen up against their cruel and avaricious lord, with hundreds of people surrounding his manor house, threatening to burn it to the ground. The panicked nobleman’s message for help was answered by the arrival of a single Ranger. Aghast, the nobleman confronted the solitary cowled figure.

“They sent one Ranger?” he said incredulously. “One man?”

“How many riots do you have?” the Ranger replied.

On this occasion, however, Duncan was not incline to be swayed by legend. “I have a new saying,” he replied. “One daughter, two Rangers.”

“Two and a half,” Will corrected him. The king couldn’t help smiling at the eager young face before him.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” he said. “Two and three-quarters.”

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The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

The Siege of Macindaw, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Sorcerer of the North.

The kingdom is in danger. Renegade knight Sir Keren has succeeded in overtaking Castle Macindaw and now is conspiring with the Scotti. The fate of Araluen rests in the hands of two young adventurers: the Ranger Will and his warrior friend, Horace. Yet for Will, the stakes are even higher. For inside Castle Macindaw, held hostage, is someone he loves. For this onetime apprentice, the time to grow up is now.

Rating: 4/5

Flanagan manages to continue to be inventive and new with every book he writes, even if the formula is predictable. This is something that Brian Jacques failed to do in his Redwall series, with each progressive book becoming more and more tedious, but Flanagan manages to avoid this entirely and makes each book fresh and fun.

The Siege of Macindaw isn’t quite as good as I thought The Battle for Skandia was, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Will has several moments of “I’m going to DIE” realizations, which is nice because up until now our Plucky Heroes have seemed nearly invincible. Luck (and Horace) help him out a lot, but still, it’s nice to see a protagonist miscalculate at times, especially when he’s known for his usually good strategy. In fact, the entire “the characters will never die” trope that Flanagan continuously exhibits, probably the weakest point of the series, made it so that I was shocked when the details about the last book in the series were revealed (which I’ve actually never read). But that’s a different conversation for a different time.

The added romance was done pretty well and wasn’t cheesy at all—and Horace poking fun at Will for the “I think this way and don’t realize you think the same way so it’s really awkward all the time” tension is a great tongue-in-cheek moment. The romance also makes a lot of sense, in that the characters are growing up and are starting to think more and more about things like love.

What can I say that I haven’t already said about Ranger’s Apprentice? I love this series to death, and The Siege of Macindaw is another great installment of a series that is continuously fresh and fun with every book.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Horace shrugged. “No matter. I’m sure we can manage. So, how many, exactly?”

“You mean, counting you and me?” Will asked.

… “Yes. I think we’d better count you and me. How many?”

… “Counting you and me, twenty-seven.”

“Twenty-seven,” Horace repeated, his tone devoid of any expression.

“But they’re Skandians, after all,” Will said hopefully.

His friend look at him, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. “They’d better be,” he said heavily.

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The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

The Sorcerer of the North, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Battle for Skandia.

Several years have passed since the apprentice and his master, Will and Halt, led the Skandians to victory against invaders, and Will is finally a full-fledged Ranger with his own fief to look after. The fief seems sleepy—boring, even—until Lord Syron, master of a castle far in the north, is struck down by a mysterious illness. Joined by his friend Alyss, Will is suddenly thrown headfirst into an extraordinary adventure, investigating fears of sorcery and trying to determine who is loyal to Lord Syron…and who is planning to betray him. Will and Alyss must battle growing hysteria, traitors, and most of all, time. Lord Syron is fading, but when Alyss is taken hostage, Will is forced to make a desperate choice between loyalty to his mission and loyalty to his friend.

Rating: 3/5

The Sorcerer of the North, like The Icebound Land, is another Part 1 of 2 novel in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, taking place several years after The Battle for Skandia. However, I think that it’s a better Part 1 than The Icebound Land is. It has more mystery, more suspense, and, frankly, has much less “I’m stretching this plot to fit a whole book” moments.

I had actually forgotten about one of the major twists in this story, and so I got to experience it fresh all over again—and it really is quite a good twist. It seems inevitable after it’s over, but Flanagan manages to imbibe the moment with enough shock and tension that you go with the moment rather than think, “Oh, right, of course that would happen.”

The Sorcerer of the North is also interesting in that since the first two books, magic hasn’t been mentioned. Ranger’s Apprentice seems like such a realistic world (even in its fantasy elements) that magic doesn’t seem to have a place. Then along comes a book like this one, and raises all sorts of questions, such as “Is there actually magic or is it just sleight of hand and trickery?” I like the ambiguous nature of the magical aspect of the books and thought it was incorporated well in this one.

The Sorcerer of the North is clearly just the first part of a two-part story, where the second part promises to be even bigger and better, but it lacks the stiltedness and slow pace of The Icebound Land and contains a great deal of mystery and suspense to help hook the reader into the next book. It’s not perfect, but at this point, these books really don’t need to be.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“It’s not for us to say what it is. But there are strange goings-on. Strange sights.”

“Particularly in Grimsdell Wood,” said a tall farmer and, once more, others agreed. “Strange sights, and sounds—unearthly sounds they are. They’d chill your blood. I’ve heard them once and that’s enough for me.”

It seemed that once their initial reluctance was overcome, people wanted to discuss the subject, as if it held a fascination for them that they wanted to share.

“What sort of things do you see?” Will asked.

“Lights, mainly—little balls of colored light that move through the threes. And dark shapes. Shapes that move just outside your vision’s range.”

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The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

The Battle for Skandia, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Icebound Land.

For Will and Evanlyn, freedom has never felt so fleeting. Still far from their homeland after escaping slavery in the icebound land of Skandia, the Ranger’s apprentice and the princess’s plan to return to Araluen are spoiled when Evanlyn is taken captive by a Temujai warrior. Though still weakened by warmweed’s toxic effects, Will employs his Ranger training to locate his friend, but an enemy scouting party has him fatally outnumbered. Will is certain death is close at hand until old friends make a daring, last-minute rescue. The reunion is cut short, however, when they make a horrifying discovery: Skandia’s borders have been breached by the entire Temujai army. And Araluen is next in their sights. If two kingdoms are to be saved, the unlikeliest of unions must be made. Will it hold long enough to vanquish a ruthless new enemy? Or will past tensions spell doom for all?

Rating: 4/5

The Battle for Skandia might be one of my favorite Ranger’s Apprentice books. Part of the reason might be because it comes right after the disappointing, unresolved The Icebound Land and is so action-packed that it makes up for that slow pace. Or maybe it’s just because The Battle for Skandia is a thrilling read. I never knew I could be so gripped by descriptions of a battle.

I think one thing I like about Flanagan is that he writes battle scenes well. They’re descriptive, but he doesn’t use so many terms that someone unfamiliar with weapons or fighting would be lost. They’re also not so descriptive as to be tedious or read like an action movie script. He explains the mechanics and strategy well enough that the reader is swept up in the action rather than confused by everything going on. It reminds me a little bit of how Brian Jacques wrote his fighting scenes in the Redwall series, but Flanagan does it better.

The humor is still on point and Flanagan does a good job of balancing the tense fighting with light humor scattered throughout. I also appreciate how he makes the characters interesting and fresh, and gives the ones that appear less often memorable and distinctive traits so that when they do show up again they are remembered through what they do and say.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series might not be for everyone, but for me, The Battle for Skandia is a testament to what I love about the series: great action, humor, and interesting characters. It more than makes up for the disappointing book that comes before and makes me excited to read more.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What ‘what’ are you asking me?” he said. Then, thinking how to make his question clearer, he added, “Or to put it another way, why are you asking ‘what’?”

Controlling himself with enormous restraint, and making no secret of the fact, Halt said, very precisely: “You were about to ask a question.”

Horace frowned. “I was?”

Halt nodded. “You were. I saw you take a breath to ask it.”

“I see,” said Horace. “And what was it about?”

For just a second or two, Halt was speechless. He opened his mouth, closed it again, then finally found the strength to speak.

“That is what I was asking you,” he said. “When I said ‘what,’ I was asking you what you were about to ask me.”

“I wasn’t about to ask you ‘what,’” Horace replied, and Halt glared at him suspiciously.…

“Then what, if I may use that word once more, were you about to ask me?”

Horace drew breath once more, then hesitated. “I forget,” he said. “What were we talking about?”

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The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

The Icebound Land, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Burning Bridge.

Kidnapped and taken to a frozen land after the fierce battle with Lord Morgarath, Will and Evanlyn are bound for Skandia as captives aboard a fearsome wolfship. Halt has sworn to rescue his young apprentice, and he will do anything to keep his promise—even defy his King. Expelled from the Rangers he has served so loyally, Halt is joined by Will’s friend Horace as he travels toward Skandia. On their way, they are challenged again and again by freelance knights—but Horace knows a thing or two about combat. Soon his skills begin to attract the attention of knights and warlords for miles around. But will he and halt be in time to rescue Will from a horrific life of slavery?

Rating: 3/5

The Icebound Land steps away from its focus on Will slightly, but only in the sense that Will is not one of the third-person narrators. The story switches between the two groups of Halt and Horace and Evanlyn and Will, with both Horace and Will taking a bit of a backseat (Will moreso, with very good reason). It’s great to have Halt as a narrator, because even with Flanagan’s occasionally stilted or over-the-top writing, Halt is wonderfully snarky and incredibly awesome. He also takes care of one of the antagonists in an incredibly anticlimactic matter which only underscores his awesomeness.

This book is really only the first part of a plot that will continue in the next book, and towards the end Flanagan throws in some hints as to what is to come. It’s actually quite light on plot, overall, which is probably why Flanagan threw in Halt and Horace as viewpoint characters and gave them some enemies to face—it adds to the book and Evanlyn and Will’s plot is depressing enough that the book needs the humor that the Halt and Horace plot brings.

However, the fact that The Icebound Land is only Part 1 of 2 really shows, and not a lot happens in the book at all. Halt and Horace’s adventure is fluff and not necessary or important to their characters at all, while Evanlyn and Will’s adventure is entirely necessary, but so short that it could not possibly sustain the novel on its own. Flanagan combining the two helps it out a little, but not completely. The Icebound Land reads like the prologue to a bigger story, and not at all reads like it’s complete in itself, if that makes sense. I don’t want to say it feels unfinished, but it definitely feels a little unsatisfying when it ends and you’re left with a feeling of irresolution.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“We must answer his demand. Are you sure you’re not taking on too much?” the Ranger said. “After all, he is a fully qualified knight.”

“Well…yes,” said Horace awkwardly. He didn’t want Halt to think he was boasting. “But he’s not actually very good, is he?”

“Isn’t he?” Halt asked sarcastically.

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