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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Ranger’s Apprentice Books 1 To 4 - a Re-read

The last few days I have been bingeing on The Ranger’s Apprentice series, my second time, and enjoying it all over again. True, the first novel, The Ruins Of Gorlan, is perhaps the slowest of the series, setting up the universe and introducing us to the hero, Will, his mentor, the Ranger Halt, and Horace, who was a childhood enemy and becomes his best friend. It takes you through some of the training done by Will and Horace(and Horace’s being bullied by three older students at Battleschool)and introduces Will’s trusty pony Tug, along with a description of things Rangers’ horses can do that others don’t. And finally, it gets around to the fighting stuff, with an attempted invasion by the banished Morgaroth, a sinister dark lord type who uses scary critters to help him. But that’s about two thirds of the way through, though Morgaroth appears briefly in the prologue. Interestingly, I think this book and its immediate sequel, The Burning Bridge, seem to be the only two  to include fantasy elements. The rest of those I’ve read are only fantasy in that they are in a world other than ours. I kind of like that. 

The Burning Bridge speeds up. Will and Horace go to the kingdom of Celtica with a Ranger called Gilan, to get help against Morgaroth and find it’s the Celt# who need help. They also meet a girl called Evanlyn, who becomes the third member of the teen trio, and who is more than she seems... 

The novel ends on a cliffhanger after a lot of fighting the villain, and goes immediately to The Icebound Land, in which there is some suffering and some rescuing, as Will and Evanlyn are enslaved in Skandia, the equivalent of our own Scandinavia. Halt has to get himself banished to be able to go after Will(he’s not allowed to leave otherwise)and takes along Horace, who finds himself getting a reputation in Gallica (France) as the fearsome Knight of the Oak Leaf(Halt’s idea, though he can’t remember if his French name for Horace means Oak Leaf or Oak Pancake), after having had to fight various knights right out of  Monty Python And The Holy Grail and acquiring an embarrassing number of horses and armour. Horace is delightfully innocent and this part of the novel is very funny. Halt also explains to him that the young ladies in skimpy clothes have short dresses because they’re couriers and short skirts make running easier. There are grimmer elements in the later parts of the book, as Halt and Horace encounter a truly nasty local warlord and Evanlyn has to try to get Will off a drug to which he has become addicted to stay warm. 

The one I have just finished, Oakleaf Bearers, gets even more exciting as Skandia is about to be invaded by the Temujai, this world’s answer to the Mongols, who will invade Araluen, our heroes’ home,  next if not stopped. Will, Halt, Horace and Evanlyn agree to help the Skandians, whose idea of warfare is to simply charge at the enemy, something on which the Temujai are counting. But Halt has actually lived with them, back when he was about to steal some of their horses to breed as Ranger ponies. He knows their fighting style; it’s a lot more elaborate than the Skandians’, but predictable if you know them.   The likeable Skandian Jarl, Erak will appear in future volumes, including the Brotherband spinoff series. 

I’m about to reread The Sorcerer In The North, the fifth in publication order, but set five years later - the seventh volume goes back to Will’s Apprentice years. A bit like Morris Gleitzman’s Once series, really, in that respect. 

So, what did I think in general? A wonderful series and I mean to read and reread the lot, including the prequels and Brotherband, although I think Hal Mikkelsen of Brotherband, is s male Mary Sue in some ways. 

There were a few - a very few - glitches I don’t think I noticed the first time. A kidnapped Evanlyn is tied up. Her hands are tied behind her and she is shoved against a tree for the night. When she later defends herself from a Temuj’ who is about to kill her, her hands are tied in front of her. A small error an editor could have picked up easily enough and should have. 

When Erak helps the two teens to escape, he gives them a pony and a few supplies and gives them directions to a hunters’ hut in the mountains, where they are to spend the winter; nobody uses the hut till spring. The hut has a lean-to stable and some more supplies, but not much. Evanlyn wonders briefly how she is going to feed the pony, but decides to worry about it later. Much later, it seems; we never learn how that horse is fed - and not only that, but when our heroes are unexpectedly forced to leave the hut, the pony stays behind. Much later, near the end of the fourth novel, Will goes back to give the horse some oats. It’s still there, though it has managed to break away and nibble on some spring grass near the hut. Nobody has thought of that animal in - weeks? It’s just fine. 

I do wonder, too, if you can actually shoot a longbow from horseback, as Halt does. That’s something I need to check up, just out of interest. I sort of  thought that was why the Mongols used short bows? Ah, well. A wonderful series of adventures and a handful of glitches in four books is pretty good going. 

If you haven’t read them, do! 

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