(Originally published January 23, 2009)
I just got back from Barnes and Noble today…it was hard to leave. 🙂 While I was there, I had the opportunity to enjoy the newest installment in the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series of young-adult fantasy novels. I used to read more in this genre than I do now (the teen fantasy market is now swamped with “Twilight” and “Eragon” ripoffs) but “Ranger’s Apprentice” has been consistently good.
The book picks up several years after book #4 – “The Battle for Skandia.” Since author John Flanagan’s books usually take place within a relatively short span of time (think, days) this was a bit of an abrupt shift. I found myself missing all the character development that must have gone on during that time. 😦
Will, a young Ranger (like Faramir in LotR) is dispatched to a northern castle to investigate reports of strange phenomena…allegedly the work of a local sorcerer. One of the most gratifying aspects of this series is the lack of reliance on magic. An overuse of super-powerful magic was one of the biggest problems with the recent Inheritance Cycle novel “Brisingr.” Conversely, “Ranger’s Apprentice” tends to focus more on physical skills and general cleverness…a wise choice on the author’s part. I was a bit concerned that the book would degenerate into one of the innumerable Harry Potter clones…but, luckily, such was not the case.
Another particularly fascinating aspect of Flanagan’s world is the connection to real-life history. His fantasy universe is almost an exact replica of medieval Europe, with only a few minor changes in place names. Examples: the “sea wolves” of “Skandia” are closely modeled after the Vikings. The “Temujai” horse archers of the east are based on Genghis Khan’s Mongol tribes. As for the “Scotti” barbarians…I think you get the idea. Locations include “Hibernia” (an old Latin name for Ireland), “Gallica” (clearly derivative of “Gaul” or France) and others.
I won’t spoil the ending on this one…read it for yourself to find out whether or not there’s really sorcerous activity going on. 😉 Be warned…it ends at a cliffhanger.
It isn’t great literature (and never pretends to be) but it’s a darn good piece of escapist fun.