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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Review: The Ruins of Gorlan

Author: John Flanagan

Release date: This edition 2007, first published 2004
Genre: Historical Fantasy Adventure
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Random House Children’s Books


The Ruins of Gorlan is the first novel in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It’s a pseudo-medieval adventure with a light touch of fantasy.

Will is a ward of Castle Redmont. At the beginning of the story he is nervous about Choosing Day because he must join a craft. His desperate desire is to be a knight like he imagines his father to have been and join Castle Redmont Battleschool. But Will is small and isn’t muscular like Horace a fellow ward. Horace has been teasing Will about his size and there is no doubt that Horace will be granted his wish by Sir Rodney and Baron Arald. But it won’t surprise you to learn that Will does not become an Apprentice Knight, but an Apprentice Ranger. The Rangers are feared by the villagers and Castle residents. They believe them to be supernatural and Will isn’t entirely sure this is true but he isn’t entirely convinced it’s nonsense either.

The position of Ranger’s Apprentice is not simply gifted to Will, he earns it through his actions. Not just anyone can be a Ranger’s Apprentice – they must be inquisitive and resourceful, stealthy and brave. The Rangers are the kingdom’s intelligence force and their actions saved the day in the war against Morgarath fifteen years ago. Will has great challenges ahead of him. This novel is a mythical beginning of something like MI5. Very cool!

I really loved the action in this story. The archery and the battle scenes were full of tension and I was compelled to keep turning pages. The characterisation of both Will and Horace was excellent. Creating two boys who sound so different is a real talent and I really admired the author’s ability to do this. I really cared about the future of both boys and was constantly afraid that Horace would not survive his tormentors at the Battleschool.

There were, however, several things about this book that annoyed me. The first was the portrayal of the roles of men and women in this society. Yes, it is a medieval setting but it’s a semi-fantastical one and I felt the author could have given women more dynamic roles than “diplomats” and “cooks”. I didn’t like the way he generalised the temperament of women. My second frustration was the opening and the high level of “telling” rather than “showing”. The book would have benefited from more dialogue interspersed throughout the long paragraphs of description/ action. My third and final frustration was the viewpoint. I had no trouble moving between following Will and Horace in the third person (the swap was infrequent) but I didn’t like the omniscient narrative. I would have preferred to see the story through the boys’ eyes and not the authors.

Despite these reservations, I did enjoy this book and have no doubt whatsoever that boys will also love reading it. There is sword fighting, mindless monsters and daring missions. Why wouldn’t they love it? But let’s not forget that girls can be Rangers too. And if they can’t in the author’s mind, then is this really the sort of novel we want children to be reading in 2012?  

Recommended for fans of:

·         The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delany

·         The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Source: Borrowed from the School Library.

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