If you love unabashed epic middle-grade fantasy, you’ve probably heard of John Flanagan. Between the Ranger’s Apprentice series and Brotherband Chronicles, I count nineteen books. Each and every one with a totally awesome cover.
Today I’m heading back to where they started, in 2004 with ‘Ranger’s Apprentice Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan‘.
Hang on one book-devouring second…
Nineteen books in just over twelve years? And another one due this year? That is, hands down, awesome work. Bravo Flanagan!
So, what did I love?
- Positive relationships
- Incorporation of bullying
1) The warm relationships
I love how our main character, Will, starts out in a really negative relationship with Horace. But they end up mates. And the reason for that change isn’t sugary nonsense.
And Will’s Mentor-figure Halt is gruff and taciturn, but deep down he’s caring and a great role model for Will.
Middle-graders don’t need nastiness and toxic relationships. This book is targeted at reluctant reader boys, so it hands out big servings of boy-ness and rights-of-passage, friendship and bonding.
2) The tactful weaving of bullying into the story
Horace bullies Will, and then Horace himself becomes the target of much more violent bullies. His is a textbook rendition of how some kids try to deal with it, keeping it to himself, presuming it’s acceptable, as he spirals down. He recognises how he mistreated Will, and finds the strength in the end to stand up to the bullies to protect Will.
With the support of Halt, Horace eventually deals with his three bullies. Violently. Personally I don’t think that’s the best solution. But I still think this book would be very helpful to kids (boys especially) who are having issues with bullies.
Or even might be bullies themselves…
3) The tantalising mystery
Where did Will come from? Who were his parents? Who left him with the Baron?
And why does Halt take him on as an apprentice?
All is revealed at the end, thankfully. There’s nothing like a dragging-on mystery to kill my desire to learn the truth.
4) The world-building
Flanagan is spoken of highly for how deeply he researches his worlds – they are fictitious but based on historical facts. It comes through. The world engulfs you as you read.
But what about the lack of girls?
I like gender diversity in my books. Not just in terms of roles for both girls and boys, but girls and boys depicted in non-stereotypical roles. I love the idea of writing an entire draft, and then changing the gender of a character to see where it takes the story.
This book unashamedly thumbs its nose at diversity. It’s like it says, ‘I’m a book for boys who aren’t keen on reading, like it or lump it!’ There are two minor female characters, both there as potential objects of affection for Will and Horace, both pretty, and one bakes pies. Several other women pop up briefly in the narrative, only to die in childbirth a line or so later.
Everybody. Else. Is. Male.
But it got me thinking… is that so bad?
If it gets boys reading because it’s a book that boys who don’t like reading wouldn’t mind reading, then I’m happy to celebrate it.
The lack of diversity doesn’t last, by the way. As the books go on, awesome girls pop up who don’t remain stuck in the palace and do know how to fight. I hazard a guess Flanagan eased his readers into loving the wider world of books, one awesome step at a time.
‘The Ruins of Gorlan’ is a great way to start a lifelong love of reading. Entertaining, exciting and well thought-out. Don’t stop there, keep reading the rest!