The Children’s Book Review | October 31, 2015
Witten by John Flanagan
Age Range: ages 10 and up
Publisher: Philomel Books (October 2015)
What to expect: Adventure, Intrigue
The popular Ranger’s Apprentice series began as short stories John Flanagan wrote for his 12-year-old son, and as you dive into The Tournament at Gorlan, prequel to the series, you can imagine the author’s invitation: “curl up and get comfortable; I’ve got a story for you.” And an engrossing tale it is. As Gorlan begins, the king of Araluen is in thrall to Baron Morgarath, who schemes to seize the throne. The baron has deployed an imposter who poses as the prince, tarnishing the prince’s good name and turning nobles, commoners and the king himself against him. To further undermine the king, Morgarath is dismissing his elite special forces, the Rangers.
Flanagan begins his story at a leisurely pace, with a Ranger named Crowley and his friend Halt traveling the countryside as they attempt to re-unite the Rangers and ultimately, to challenge Morgarath. Flananan gives us a wealth of detail as he draws us into Halt and Crowley’s adventures. Readers learn what makes a Ranger horse so special, how to re-seal a confidential parchment and how to make gourmet meals out of doors (it helps to travel with vinegar, oil and butter).
Flanagan excels with his characters; it’s clear he likes the men he’s writing about. Though Halt and Crowley scarcely evolve, the dialogue between them is a pleasure to read, and often very funny. Crowley, a relentlessly sunny fellow, can’t resist needling his prickly friend, and when Halt is grouchy, he becomes extra careful with his grammar. But Halt wins our sympathy when he meets a lovely woman; he’s so captivated, he knocks over a chair, becomes nearly mute and seethes helplessly as Crowley plays the suave gentleman to her.
Young readers can learn a lot from Flanagan’s Rangers, who treasure their mentors and depend on each other’s strengths. Especially instructive is a scene where the men must choose a leader, a delicate process where egos are handled with care.
Flanagan tells his story in third-person omniscient, which he handles with finesse. Though Gorlan has a sizeable cast, he reminds readers of the characters’ roles in the scheme of things. As the tournament approaches, Flanagan smoothly alternates scenes between several players, quickening the action as he raises the stakes for heroes and villains alike. Tensions come to a head at the tournament, and here Flanagan excels with vivid detail: the sizzle of dripping fat on hot coals, the hiss of a sword drawn from its scabbard, the flying shards of wood as a lance shatters against a shield.
Flanagan ends his story with a serious blow to the Rangers, and the introduction of a fantastical beast, the Wargal, one of the several players introduced here which will figure in later books. The second prequel is due out October 2016, so Flanagan fans can look forward to curling up with another fine tale.
About the Author
John Flanagan grew up in Sydney, Australia, hoping to be a writer, and after a successful career in advertising and television, he began writing a series of short stories for his son, Michael, in order to encourage him to read. Those stories would eventually become The Ruins of Gorlan, Book 1 of the Ranger’s Apprentice epic. Together with his companion series, Brotherband Chronicles, the novels of John Flanagan have sold millions of copies and made readers of kids the world over. Mr. Flanagan lives in the suburb of Manly, Australia, with his wife. In addition to their son, they have two grown daughters and four grandsons.
You can visit John Flanagan at www.RangersApprentice.com.
The Tournament at Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice: the Early Years), written by John Flanagan, was reviewed by Janice Greene. Discover more books like The Tournament at Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice: the Early Years) by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Middle Grade Books.