Premise: Alongside the other orphans raised in the household of their charitable Baron, Will discovers his place in the world: training to become a king’s Ranger.
About: Children’s high fantasy, 2004. I picked this up because the series has reached, I don’t know, book #24? (*I just checked: it is now finished, at book 12.*) Anyway, I figured it was time to join the crowd, and I’m relatively pleased that I did so.
What I Liked: (1) The main thing I like about this series is the decently-developed protagonist—Will. We won’t mind discovering the colorful world of the series through his eyes. (2) And that’s the second thing I really like about this series—I’m excited to see the worldbuilding expand with each book. (3) Because the book focuses so much on Will’s character and future occupation, we can also expect to enjoy further adventures from his perspective. (4) The plot moves right along, even though it isn’t very original. (It’s the hero’s journey.) (5) The tension inherent in Will’s desire line (he wishes, above all, to honor his heroic father’s memory) sufficiently entices readers along without resorting to eye-rolling constructs such as, “If you don’t pass your Faction testing, you’re an outcast FOREVER!!!!!!” in order to elevate the tension. The tensions feel like legitimate concerns and stakes for a fifteen year old boy living in medieval times: Will doesn’t want to fail out of the exciting careers and be forced into a lifetime of farming. He doesn’t want to shame the name of his heroic father. (Highlight to read SPOILER: I also really like how this comes full circle, in that his father was not a glorious knight, but simply a brave fighter in the army.)
-Character: My favorite part was the evolution of Horace’s character. (Highlight to read SPOILER: Horace was a bully until, later in the book, he experienced bullying himself and it changed him completely—for the better.) I also enjoyed the rivalry between Will and Horace—it was done really well (Highlight to read SPOILER: I liked the rivalry right up until they stopped hating each other’s guts. The “make up” scene was rather silly. Horace should have had more of a role to play. But the epic fight against Horace’s bullies completely made up for that.) I tend to be a character-driven reader, so of course I wanted more characterization, but I’m sure Flanagan was trying to keep this novel relatively short and there wasn’t a lot of room for pure characterization. I guess that’s what the next books are for, right? (*pleasepleaseplease*)
-Worldbuilding: It’s decent, thus far. It feels like medieval times, although there aren’t a whole lot of setting details that paint the medieval lifestyle, like there are in some high fantasies (such as, say, The Protector of the Small quartet, which portrays everything you could think of about becoming a knight in a medieval castle).
The One Thing I Didn’t Like: (Highlight to read SPOILER: That kiss at the end was silly. We hardly heard two words from Alyss the whole story, and suddenly she’s kissing Will? Meh. Silly.
Overall: Nothing super original, but I’m excited to see where the series goes, nonetheless. That’s really what I’m here for—a great high Fantasy series to keep returning to. I’m excited to see where Flanagan goes with the character-development and world-building.
Recommendation: I recommend this book to pathological readers of children’s fantasy or to children in general. It’s never too early to jumpstart an enduring love of fantasy, and I think MG readers can and do eat this first novel up.
I’m definitely reading the next in the series. I think I may be in it for the long haul!