July 7, 2012

The Ranger's Apprentice

I'd been meaning to get to this for some time because my lovely bride has been reading the whole series (I think there are ten books by now) and love them.  I listened to it on audio and was expecting an Australian voice since Flanagan is Australian, but John Keating (the narrator) is more Irish and does a wide range of United Kingdom-type accents that just nails it.

I was actually a bit dismayed at the beginning because it was almost exactly like The Foundling in it's set up.  Young boy coming of age who has never known his parents wants desperately to be in the military, but when it comes time for the guys that come through and draft you, he isn't chosen.  Then a day or so later a mysterious hooded figure takes him into his trade which isn't what he really wanted, but it's better than nothing, so he goes along.

The exact same!  And both authors are Australian.  So I was worried.  But the similarities end there.  The Foundling quickly becomes much more Baroque and grotesque and rococo.  This is a streamlined, well-muscled adventure yarn.  Oh sure, there can be a bit too much description of Will's training as a Ranger's Apprentice, but it's all that cool tracking, archery, horse-riding and ninja-like hiding that we all loved so much from Robin Hood.  And there's another character from the orphanage who does go to the military training and we learn it's a nasty and brutish business and we're happy Will is in the forest with a nice horse and Mister Miyagi-type mentor, by the great name of Halt, rather than the bullies at the battle school.

It turns out Will has the perfect temperament to be a good ranger.  And while he has the basic skills, he clearly puts in a lot of work to bring his game up to the proper lever for the end of the book (and the rest of the series, I'm sure).  Now his battle school friend, Horace is another matter.  Flanagan does indulge in the master swordsman trope with Horace.  You know, the one where a mostly decent fighter gets his hands on some weapon for the first time and is just a total natural at it.  Horace is so badass with a sword that the dudes running the military school don't want to let him in on just how badass he is in case he's not mentally strong enough to handle battle school.  They don't want him going all "he was a pupil of ours until he turned to evil!"

There's magic in this world, but it doesn't seem to be much of an everyday occurrence (except, of course for an evil wizard we hate), so there's not too much nonsense to drag things down like some other books I know.

So yeah, knife-throwing, swords, horses, sneaking around, all kinds of great stuff to get kids hooked. Heck, I'm hooked.  I'm just a slow reader with a big pile so don't know when I'll get to the next one.