Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Titles: Ruins of Gorlan; Burning Bridge; Icebound Land; Battle for Skandia; Sorcerer of the North; Siege of Macindaw; Erak's Ransom; Kings of Clonmel; Halt's Peril; Emperor of Nihon-Ja; Lost Stories; Royal Ranger
Author: John Flanagan
Rating: * (1 stars out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations
If you've tired of darker fantasy steeped in sorcery and violence, John Flanagan's series will seem like a breath of fresh air. I recommend it as "safe" fantasy, the downside being fairly simplistic plots and some tedious writing.
The first book, Ruins of Gorlan, basically offers the medieval time period of knights, craftsmen, apprentices, kings and lords with minimal focus on magic. Think of LOTR-lite: an evil character named Morgarath accompanied by wargals and Kalkara in the Kingdom of Araluen and the Mountains of Rain and Night. If those don't seem familiar enough, take a mysterious, sullen protagonist and name him "Ranger." (Viggo Mortensen, anyone?)
Originality aside, young fantasy adventure fans will love the story of 4 orphans receiving their apprenticeships on "choosing day": Alyss to become a diplomat; Jenny, a chef; Horace, a knight; and Will to study under the curt tutelage of the legendary Ranger Halt.
Flanagan's writing sometimes bogs down in unnecessary details, but the story is generally an engaging one with a few "damns" and 1 "hell" thrown in for drama.
I also read the fifth book, Sorcerer of the Night, to see if the series would get edgier as the plots advanced. I appreciated Flanagan's view of sorcery:
"Do we believe in sorcery?"
"95% of cases that I've seen have been nothing but mumbo jumbo and trickery. Then there's perhaps another 3% that involves mind domination and manipulation of a weaker mind by a stronger--the sort of control that Morgarath exercised over his wargals. That leaves 1%. Who's to say that there isn't the occasional person with the ability to summon a force and channel it to his own use?"
In the end, the sorcerer "Malkallam" turned out to be Malcolm, a misunderstood and shunned healer.
One thing that did increase in most chapters of this 5th book was the use of mild curse words for dramatic effect:
"Damn the man! We may have to kill him, Will."
"He's made a damn nuisance of himself around here and I don't have time to attend to him."
"Oh, all right, Crowley! Let's get on with it, for God's sake."
"I'm worried, dammit!"
"You'd need one hell of a light source."
"Maybe they got their damn poison into the water."
While fairly harmless, it's worth mentioning and monitoring.
This book offered a plot twist that felt contrived and unconvincing. Flanagan spent much of the book building Lord Orman as the evil lord of Castle Macindaw while his cousin Keren is billed as an effective, alternative leader. With merely one dramatic conversation, Ranger Will must turn his loyalty back to Lord Orman. The audience is told:
"...when a person is unpopular, it's so easy to think badly of him."
True enough, but it would be nice to have it illustrated more creatively.
Some reviewers on Amazon felt Flanagan needed to write more books for commercial purposes. Indeed, Sorcerer of the North ends abruptly, a frustrating hook for the next book in the series. Most fans will not be disappointed by this device and will eagerly read on, enjoying a simplified and accessible fantasy adventure.