Knights, castles, swords and battle — standard props in many great fantasy stories. But what if you love that stuff, but not the wizards, magic rings, spells and dragons that often come along for the ride? The answer is this superbly-written adventure series that has been a huge hit with boys (and girls, and even ADULTS!) in our library:
The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice #1), by John Flanagan (lexile: 920; AR book level: 7.0; 249 pp)
Tomorrow is Choosing Day, and Will is nervous. He and all the other 15-year-old wards of Castle Redmont will each be apprenticed to a master for training. He dreams of being selected for Battleschool — but his small stature makes it impossible. In fact, it seems like no master wants him — except for Halt, a Ranger, one of the mysterious, secretive spies looked on with suspicion by most in the kingdom of Araluen.
Will soon learns that the job of the Rangers is both more dangerous and important than he realized. With their finely-honed skills with knife and longbow, and their ability to move so stealthily it seems like magic, they patrol the kingdom, watching and protecting.
Halt begins to train Will, but soon a real mission interrupts. An evil warlord, once banished from Araluen, is rumored to be sending wicked, monstrous creatures to infiltrate the kingdom. Halt and Will are sent to stop them, and Will’s courage and skills are tested sooner than anyone expected in a breath-taking battle at the climax.
There’s lots to like about this book and the sequels. There’s plenty of action, adventure, and excellent battle scenes. (Flanagan based his Rangers on the real-life U.S. Army Rangers of World War II.) And though some of the evil creatures they battle are mythical, the heroes conquer evil without magic — traits like loyalty, perseverance, courage, friendship, and skill win the day. Will, Halt, and a few other key characters are in all the books, and you grow attached to them as they grow in their commitment to one another.
Australian author Flanagan first started the series as a few short stories to get his son interested in reading. With sales now in 16 countries of over 3 million copies, he’s captured the imagination of lots more kids. The whole series: