The Ruins of Gorlan – Ranger’s Apprentice #1

Rangers Apprentice 1

Author: John Flanagan

Publication: Puffin Books, 2005

Pages: 272

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 9 – 12

Brief Summary: Will is an orphan raised as a ward by Baron Arald, the lord of Castle Redmont.  At the age of 15, he and the other wards are given the chance to interview for an apprenticeship with one of the Baron’s Craft Masters.  Will believes that his father was a knight and desperately wants to follow in his footsteps by joining the Battle School.  His arch nemesis, Horace, is easily accepted into Battle School, but Will is rejected.  He’s just too small.  Will is desperate, certain he’ll be left with no options but to become a farm laborer.

To Will’s surprise he is accepted as an apprentice by Halt, one of the King’s Rangers.  The rangers serve as spies and information gatherers, scouring the kingdom for potential threats.  At first Will is disappointed.  He’d had his heart set on becoming a knight.  But as he learns to ride, shoot his bow, track, and use a heavy sax knife, his attitude towards the rangers begins to change.

Horace faces his own challenges as he discovers that HE is now the target of a group of bullies, who attack him relentlessly and make his life miserable.

The day finally comes when Will and Horace have to prove themselves.  Horace must face up to the bullies who have tormented him, and Will is brought face-to-face with a band of monstrous creatures who have invaded the kingdom.  In the dark of night he discovers what it truly means to fight for his life.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Watching Will grow into his role as an apprentice ranger.  Flanagan does a good job of taking us through Will’s training as he slowly overcomes his disappointment at not getting into Battle School and learns to ride a horse, track, hide in shadows, shoot a bow, and use a heavy sax knife.   It’s fun to watch Will’s attitude slowly morph from uncertainty into a true sense of joy and belonging as he comes to realize that he was always meant to be a ranger.

What I Liked the Least: While this is a solid written story, it lacks a feeling of depth and tension.  The characters are well drawn, but it almost feels like they’re skimming the surface of the story.   I enjoyed reading the book, but it never got its hooks into me and didn’t have too much trouble putting it down.

How Good was the Action?  Okay.  Even though Will is 15 this is a middle grade novel, which tempers the action somewhat.  The book is mostly about Will’s training, Horace’s struggle against his tormentors, and the events that finally bring them together.  The only real action – outside of a boar hunt and a sword fight between Horace and the bullies – comes towards the end of the book.  Will, his craft master – Halt – and another ranger have been sent to track two Kolkara – huge, hairy monsters who work as assassins and may have entered the kingdom in order to kill Baron Arald.  There’s a fairly long section following their efforts to track the Kolkara, then Will is sent back to Redmont to bring reinforcements.  The action when they finally confront the Kolkara is good, but most of the fighting is done by Halt and a couple of knights Will brings back with him.

How Engaging was the Story?   This was definitely not the most engaging book I’ve ever read.  I enjoyed Will’s training, and Horace’s struggles against the bullies were pretty awful, but for the most part the book lacked a sense of tension.  They weren’t on any sort of mission until two thirds of the way through the book, and even then Will had Halt at his side and Halt was powerful enough that I never felt truly scared for Will.

Overall Assessment: It’s a good story.  Flanagan has created a world that’s just different enough from our own to be slightly exotic, will still being similar enough to feel familiar.  He does a good job building up all the main characters – especially Will, Horace, Halt – so that we care what happens to them, and setting the stage for future books in the series, where the action progresses beyond Will and Horace’s training.  It’s a solid first book and enjoyable enough to read, but it’s certainly no page turner.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Some, but it’s very mild. There are a couple of sword fights and a boar hunt, and the book ends with a deadly confrontation with the monstrous Kalkara.  But no one actually dies and the fights are not overly graphic.

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