It's been awhile since I did any book reviews, even though I've read three terrific books over the past few weeks. The pixies demanded that I tell you about one of them today, so I'm picking the one I whooshed through yesterday.
The first book of the Ranger's Apprentice series: The Ruins of Gorlan was a lot of fun. John Flanagan kicks it off with big baddie Morgarath making plans to revenge his defeat 15 years earlier. It's clear from his thoughts that it was a good thing for the kingdom that he'd been defeated. He's not a nice guy. Morgarath plays little direct role in the first book, but it was important to show that he's preparing to make his move by sending his allies to take out some of those personally responsible for his defeat.
Most of this book is about Will's apprenticeship to Ranger Halt, a member of a secretive group with a very important role. They spy around the kingdom searching for information to keep the kingdom safe, sometimes even dealing with a problem directly. Without them, Morgarath would have succeeded in his goal to kill the young King Duncan and usurp rulership over Araluen.
Woven around Will's training and becoming involved in the overall plot is the subplot involving Will's long-standing issues with one of his fellow castle wards, Horace, primarily because Will is the smallest of their age group and the only one with no paternal name. Horace teases him whenever they get together. He thinks he's superior because he's big and strong and Will wasn't accepted into Battleschool to train as a knight.
Their animosity erupts into an outright fight during Harvest Day, despite their friends' attempts to smooth things over. Not even Alyss, who was apprenticed to become a kingdom diplomat, could prevent it. That combined with the intense bullying Horace was facing from three of the second-year warrior apprentices made me concerned for what Horace was going to do and become, especially with his potential clearly shown by Flanagan's skillful use of omniscient POV. I didn't like how Horace treated Will, but I liked him well enough that I didn't want him going bad. I won't tell you what happens, but I will admit to crowing with delight over how the issue with the bullies was resolved. It was perfectly satisfying, built out of changes both boys had made in themselves and with each other. Ranger Halt's role certainly helped, too. Muha muhaha.
All in all, this is a wonderful MG book. It's suitable for the 10+ age level and something I will enjoy reading with my son when he's a few years older. I know I would have enjoyed it when I was a tween, and the theme with improving social skills put it high on my recommendation list. It might be a little obvious in spots, but for the targeted readership, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's well worth buying for the story, the themes, and the wonderful example of how to use omniscient POV.