The Ranger's Apprentice Series
By John Flanagan
(I'm going to review an entire series here, and I'm not going to put in all the lengths and publication dates and stuff.)
A bit of back story on the books: there is a fictional kingdom of Araluen, where at age 15 (or so), kids are apprenticed out to various future positions, such as diplomacy or battle school. There is an elite core of King's Rangers, who are sort of spy/enforcers/strategists/generally intimidating awesome people.
General disclaimer: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS, because in the nature of describing what happens in later books...or, you know, sometimes, just writing at the title, some stuff is going to be given away. I'm not going to mark the spoilers, so continue at your own risk.
Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan
Will, at 15, is an orphan who has been raised in his baron's castle along with the other orphans from the war. He is desperately hoping to be selected for battle school. However, he's rejected and devastated, thinking that he'll be condemned to a life of drudgery as a farmer, but then Halt, the intimidating, famous Halt (hero of the war) suggests that Will might have what it takes to become a Ranger. Halt starts training him, putting him through the strenuous training it will take for him to be successful. Will's skills will be put to the test sooner than expected, though, as a deadly threat enters the country.
Book 2: The Burning Bridge
Rebel Morgarath is raising his army preparing for attack, threatening the entire kingdom. Halt and Will have to figure how to keep the kingdom safe from him and his invading Wargol army. With cunning Morgarath's intrigue and stratagems, they must figure out what the rebel lord is up to before it's too late.
Book 3: The Icebound Land
Will and Evanlynn, the servant girl who isn't exactly who she said she is, have been captured by Erak and the Skandians (who were mercenaries for Morgarath) and are desperate to find a way to escape so they aren't forced into a life of slavery. Meanwhile, Halt and Horace (Will's former ward mate and current best friend) are determined to find Will and Evanlynn, but face a major obstacle along the way.
This was a little harder to read than the other books, because the characters are stuck more than in the other books; they don't accomplish as much. (Plus SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Will is drugged so we lose him mentally for awhile, and it's hard to lose your main character like that.)
Book 4: The Battle for Skandia
Will and Evanlynn have escaped the Skandians but soon, Evanlynn is captured by a Temulji raiding party. When Halt and Horace show up to help save the day, they encounter Erak and his Skandians and, fearing that if the Temulji succeed then they'll turn their sights on Araluen next, they must all work together to defeat the Temulji. I thought the final battle in this book went on a little long, but I also liked how we really got to know some of the characters better. It's so hard to pick a favorite character!
Book 5: The Sorcerer of the North
Will has just started his official assignment as a fully trained Ranger when he is sent on a special assignment; at Castle Macindaw, Lord Syron has mysteriously taken ill and word is spreading of a dark sorcerer being at fault. Will must figure out what is going on--and who is behind it.
Book 6: The Siege of Macindaw
Will is still at Macindaw, having retreated to the forest as Lord Keren has usurped the throne. As he and Malcolm (the alleged sorcerer who is really a healer) and Horace, who as arrived to provide help, devise a plan, Will's friend Alyss is being held prisoner by Lord Keren, and they realize that Keren is in league with the Scotti warriors, who want to use Macindaw as a means for invading the country. (Side note, loved the book, but at this point, I got really tired fo the words "cloak," "cowl," and "mottled".)
Book 7: Erak's Ransom
This book goes back in time before book 5, which could be jarring for some readers, but I didn't mind (of course, I also had been warned by a friend ahead of time, so I knew that was how it was going to work). Halt, Gillan, Will, and Evanlynn set out to rescue Erak, who has been captured by a desert people. However, things turn a little more complicated when Will sets out on his own to find his missing horse and when Erak is captured by another tribe.
Book 8: The Kings of Clonmel
Halt, Will and Horace set out for Hibernia where they must try to keep a phony religious group from overthrowing the king. On the way, Will and Horace find out that there's a lot more to Halt's past than they realized. Once in Hibernia, they have to track the phonies, protect the innocent Hibernians being preyed upon, and convince the weak Hibernian king that he needs to act against the phonies.
Book 9: Halt's Peril
Chasing the fake religious tribe as they cut back into Araluen, Halt is shot by a poisoned arrow and Will must race to Macindaw to find the one person who might be able to save him, the healer Malcom.
Book 10: The Emperor of Nihon-ja
Horace is visiting Nihon-ja on a diplomatic mission, when a group of warriors set out to overthrow the emperor. As Horace tries to help the emperor, Evanlynn, Will, Alyss, and Halt set out to find their missing friend and become embroiled in a fight that will determine the fate of Nihon-ja. This book was interesting in the sense that we don't see Araleun. Granted, that happened when they were in Skandia and Hibernia, but those are at least neighboring countries, whereas Nihon-ja is around the world. And maybe I noticed it more because the book ends with them at sea and they don't make it back, and that's kind of a strange way to end a series, since their careers and their lives are so vitally tied to their homeland.
I loved this series. It's full of action and adventure and witty lines (ah, Halt and his dry humor) and lovable characters and a touch of romance (Okay, I could have done with a bit more of the romance.) It's an easy one to recommend to readers. I listened to all but one of the books (simply because it was checked out and I couldn't wait for it to come back in!), and John Keating does a great job narrating...although I do recommend picking up a book or two at some point just to figure out how things are spelled.
Extra Book: The Lost Stories
In 1896, an archaeology student in the Republic of the Aralan States uncovers a collection of lost stories about the legendary Rangers. In a collection of short stories, readers come to find out more about (among other things) Halt's background, Will's parentage, and what happened after the tenth book in the series.
Reading this was a little bittersweet for me. I loved the chance to see my favorite Araluens one more time and to find out a little more about them, but this book didn't have the same captivating power that the others did. There wasn't as much action, and since the stories weren't necessarily connected to each other, they didn't create the same pull to devour the book to find out what's going to happen. There was, however, a story that made me cry, something I wasn't quite prepared for after reading the ten others dry-eyed. Overall, it isn't quite as wonderful as the rest of the series, but it's definitely something fans of the series should read.
I'm so sad this series is over! Overall, I'll give it 5 stars. There are some books I liked better than others, but it's all rip-roaring good fun. There's a little bit of language, of the milder variety, but otherwise clean.