Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

Ranger’s Apprentice 1: The Ruins of Gorlan

rangersapprenticeOVERALL: 4 Stars

Concept:4 Stars
Characters:4 Stars
Plot:4 Stars
Writing:5 Stars


John Flanagan
Random House


Description: Will always dreamed of becoming a great knight, like the father he never knew. Instead, he finds himself apprenticed to a Ranger. Rangers are responsible for the realm’s espionage and to Will, training to become a spy is not as prestigious as training to become a knight in Battle School. What’s more his new master, the reserved and revered Halt proves to be a hard taskmaster but as Will applies himself to the tasks necessary to becoming a Ranger – learning how to ride, use a of bow and arrow and most importantly move around unseen, he starts to appreciate a Ranger’s skill more and more. As his confidence in his abilities grow, so does his confidence in himself even when faced with monstrous assassins and a plot to kill the King.

This is the first book in this New York Times, best selling series. There are 12 books in all, so lots to look forward to if you like a good medieval adventure series.

Concept: As this IS a medieval adventure series, it is aimed mainly at boys but one of the reasons I really like this book’s concept is that it doesn’t just focus on sword fighting and knights as so many books of this kind do, but rather on the less prestigious (but in my opinion more interesting an important) group of men responsible for gathering intelligence. In other words, this is a book about medieval spies, which is not only rather cool, but also rather unique. I just wish there were female rangers and knights too, but that’s just me!

Characters: Although most of the characters are men, (there are a couple of girls thrown in for show) all are pretty well rounded and believable, each with their own set of visible strengths and weaknesses. In particular, Flanagan manages to portray bullies and their victim in a realistic and poignant light which I’m sure some kids will really relate to. He is also very good at highlighting both the wisdom and folly of adults. The book’s main protagonist, Will, is a likeable, but not perfect, diligent, hard working, boy who matures throughout the book as he gets a grasp on his new life.

Plot: The tale rollicks along but in a natural, unforced way. There is enough action to keep boys interested but this is interspersed with ‘quieter’ moments of reflection and learning which gives the book more depth and balance than you would normally see in a fantasy, adventure for this age. No doubt this is one of the reasons it has become a much loved series.

Writing: There is no doubt that this is a well written book that is easy and enjoyable to read and hits the mark with this age group. There is quite a bit of nuance in this book, especially where the adult characters are concerned, which makes it a perfect book to read again as with each read kids should pick up more and more of this nuance and depth. By this I mean subtle things such as the Baron’s mild irritation that no one understands his jokes which an 8 year old would probably not notice/understand but a 12 year old might.

PARENTS: I have put this book in the 7 – 10 chapter book category as well as the 9 – 13 tween category because I think it would appeal to boys in this wide age range firstly, because it is a series and I’m sure the characters grow and deepen with subsequent books and secondly because as mentioned above, it has more depth and nuance to it than many adventure books in this age group. This is a great book for boys who like adventure, medieval history and fantasy. The topics covered are bullying, how your perceptions of a person can change over time, loyalty and how sometimes the unchosen path can turn out to be the right one.

Things to ask and discuss:

(If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and details out. Being able to recount and articulate ideas from text they have read is an important skill for kids to learn and develop. Also, don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it!)

1) Will always wanted to be a knight, like his father, even though his skills and stature weren’t ideal. In fact by the end of the book Will acknowledges that Halt and the Baron made the right choice in choosing him to train as a Ranger. Will’s journey shows us how sometimes emotion can cloud our choices and in those circumstance, others may in fact be better equipped to objectively judge our strengths and weaknesses. Talk about this idea and whether it applies to your child and when.

2) The relationship between Will and Horace changes during the book. This can be a good way to talk about how our understanding of people can change over time as people change and grow.

3) Horace is bullied remorselessly during the book. Talk about what he could have done instead of just putting up with it and why he acted the way he did. It’s a good opening to talk about the topic of bullying.

4) Will is given the important task of riding for two days straight to inform the Baron of the danger to the King and kingdom. Talk about how being given this responsibility changed the way Will believed in himself. Also talk about how practice builds confidence in your abilities. Had Will not practiced so hard with his bow, would he have had the confidence to back himself when faced with real danger?

5) Why do you think that no one ‘gets’ the Baron’s jokes?

Come on comment, you know you wanna.

Book Reviews and Writer