Okay, so this hardly equates to a recent find for me. However, in keeping with my usual method of reviewing interesting finds for my readers, I thought that I’d keep with my typical mode of naming for this post.
Last year, I came across and began reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series, written by Australian author John Flanagan. Set in a medieval-esque world, the series begins in the kingdom of Araluen (which equates to the feel of medieval England) and focuses on a young boy simply known as Will. Will is an orphan with an uncertain parentage. Despite this, he was taken in by the kindly Baron of Redmont fief at an early age and was raised with a group of other wards of the castle who become close friends of his.
Each year, the Baron gives the wards who have come of age the chance at bettering their position in society by offering them apprenticeships to any of a number of master craftsmen and women within the castle. The first book opens with just such a day, when Will and his peers set out for the Baron’s office to see where they will be placed. Solid and sturdy Horace requests to train as a fighter and is granted his wish. The beautiful and brilliant Alyss asks to train as a courier (a diplomat) and the Baron obliges. Everyone gets what they ask for, and finally the Baron asks Will what he desires. When Will answers that he would also like to train as a fighter, the Baron shows concern and says that Will is too small. And in fact, Will has always been shorter and a bit scrawnier than the other boys. But he makes up for that with a natural stealth, curiosity, and speed.
Just as the Baron is beginning to worry that Will might not find his niche, a man suddenly steps out of the shadows, dressed in a strange green-gray mottled cloak, and announces that he has information about Will’s heritage (which, of course, he will not disclose at that moment). The sorting of apprenticeships is then concluded and Will is left with more questions than answers.
Later that night, Will decides to sneak into the Baron’s private tower office to see what information the strange man might have had on him, which he saw was written in a letter of some sort. Sneaking through the shadows, he makes his way into the tower… where he is promptly intercepted and captured by the cloaked man. The figure–whose name is Halt–promptly marches him to the Baron and tells him that Will would make the perfect apprentice for him. Halt, in fact, is what is known as a Ranger in Araluen. A Ranger, essentially, is a servant of the King who trains to read the land and use stealth. And, they’re deadly accurate sharp-shooters with a bow.
However, Will is a bit wary. Rangers also have a certain mystery about them and there are strange tales of magic and other powers which surround them. They’re secretive people, and Will feels nothing but fear and doubt as he heads off to Halt’s little woodland cabin the next day to begin his apprenticeship. And grim-mouthed Halt does nothing to ease his anxiety. Immediately, he sets Will to work doing chores about the cabin and nitpicking the boy for things such as asking too many questions. But before long, Will realizes that he’s actually learning a lot. He quickly embraces the lifestyle of a Ranger and he and Halt become almost inseparable friends as master and apprentice.
And the story only gets better from there. The entire series follows Will and his companions as they grow and learn more about themselves and the world around them. The geography and history of the books is strongly based on real influence, and Flanagan does an excellent job of creating enduring (and endearing) characters and situations.
Now, one of the cool things I’ve found about this series is its accessibility. The story is actually written at a middle school reading level. Granted, this was written by an Australian author, and he seems to use some rather sophisticated language for the typical American middle schooler who doesn’t like to read. So, maybe it’s written more for the Australian middle schooler and the American high schooler. But either way, the language is simple and easy to follow. It doesn’t put on airs and it gets straight to the point. But one of the reasons that adults (such as myself) find the book particularly enjoyable is its subtlety. Despite the young target audience, Flanagan manages to put in a wry joke here and there that the typical child wouldn’t pick up on or understand, but that the typical adult would find themselves giggling at. The books are also quick yet rewarding reads. They’re like chocolate bars. You eat them fast, savor every moment, and find yourself wanting more.
At the moment, there are nine books out. I happen to have just begun reading the ninth, and so far it has just the perfect blend of all the elements you come to expect from the other eight. I would highly recommend it for students and adults alike. It’s certainly an enjoyable and addicting read!
The Ranger’s Apprentice also has an awesome and interactive website, lends itself to engaging performance projects, and anticipates its first movie release for 2011.