I very much apologize for my spotty posting as of late. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but these three factors are probably influencing things:
1. My deep dark secret (but totally legal according to work) is that I write these posts in slow moments between patrons on the reference (or youth or reader’s advisory) desks at work. Slow moments seem to have been few and far between of late.
2. Various health concerns (but! Minor and ordinary!) have kept little L. up at night recently. Somehow, my brain seems to have a lot more difficulty putting a coherent post together on less than six hours of sleep a night.
3. Lightning Bolt has now officially been diagnosed with dyslexia, which means that my to-read shelf is now crowded with titles like The Secret Life of the Dyslexic Child and The Twice Exceptional Child, as well as needing to re-read The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers. I dunno – are any of you, dear readers, interested in reviews of dyslexia books? I was thinking not, but let me know.
4. Tiredness and reading more professional book blogs leading to inferiority complexes regarding my little hobby blog. I have more followers that I know about on my little new Pinterest account than on the blog I’ve been posting mostly faithfully to for the last eight years. Hard to even put that in print, but there it is.
Anyway, I have been reading some more fun stuff, so here’s a bit.
Ranger’s Apprentice. Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan. By John Flanagan. Narrated by John Keating. Will has grown up an orphan, raised in a group of foundlings sponsored by the Baron at Castle Redmont. Now all five of them are 15, and it is Choosing Day, time for them to be chosen as apprentices. Will is small and mischievous, but, believing that his father was a hero knight who died in the battle against the evil Morgarath, his dearest wish is to go to Battleschool and train to be a knight himself. All the other four foundlings are given their wishes, but Will is apprenticed to the Ranger Halt. Rangers are mysterious and much distrusted, even suspected of using black magic. Will is less than thrilled about this assignment, but as the alternative is field labor, he takes it. Of course the apprenticeship itself is lots of hard work, taking care of the menial tasks around the Ranger’s cabin as well as learning volumes of new things. He is learning things like tracking, how to stay hidden moving or holding still, how to use range weapons and to stay out of the line of battle if possible. The Rangers, it turns out, are spies of sort, spending their time in the wilds and small villages in and around the kingdom, keeping track both of political tides and the lay of the physical land. They are, in short, very cool, in a subtle way completely opposed to the flashy, bashy knights. Early on, Will’s story alternates with that of his rival from the castle, the big boy who made it to Battleschool. This boy is bullied very badly, and then takes it out on Will whenever they meet. In a plot turn that seemed inevitable from the beginning, events conspire to make these two the best of friends. Eventually he will proceed to help Halt and a former apprentice defeat some new monsters that Morgarath has sent forth in his latest bid for power.
I listened to this book on my own to see if it would be appropriate to share with my son, now seven, who loves all kinds of epic fantasy and battle-type things. And I came to the conclusion: he would love it. I am not comfortable sharing it for another couple of years at least, solely due to the strong and bullying subplot. That bullying was described in great and painful detail over multiple episodes. It was eventually resolved by Halt allowing Will to beat up on the bullies. While this is probably a very satisfying resolution for kids who have been bullied, it doesn’t seem a good solution to me. I don’t want to go on with the series myself without knowing that those types of unpleasant events wouldn’t continue. I felt with the five friends that Flanagan was assembling a crack gaming party, with a varied assortment of characters, each exceptionally good in a different area. None of these have yet been tapped in this first book, but there are ten books in the series, and I’m sure there are seeds for future plot points that I missed.
Despite my gut negative reaction to the bullying, it isn’t really any more violent than many other teen books, and there are a lot of good points to this book. It’s got constant action paired with a strong and likeable main character. Even though Will and his friends are all Above Average and it’s a fantasy, the skills are all ones that exist and could be useful in our world – no simple wand-waving. This series is aimed squarely at teen and perhaps pre-teen boys. Although most of the characters are boys, two of the five foundlings are girls, and they are given real, important careers as well, making it less gender-imbalanced than, say, LOTR. So far, there’s only the smallest hint of romance. All in all, not quite a series for me, but definitely one I’ll keep in mind for teen patrons and maybe even my son down the road a bit.