Geoffrey's Reviews > The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, #1)

The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, #1) by John Flanagan
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's review
Jun 12, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: audio-book
Read in June, 2012


The Ruins of Gorlan, book 1 in the Ranger's Apprentice series, traverses well-worn fantasy paths but manages, against my early judgement, to deliver a satisfying and entertaining adventure.

In the first handful of chapters in John Flanagan's first installment to his wildly popular Ranger's Apprentice series, I couldn't help but shake my head. The opening of this tale, with a prologue featuring the once-thought-defeated enemy, frankly did not inspire me to go on. It's not that it was poor, it was just how so many fantasy books seem to start - some cold-open, info dump where we learn about things that have already come to pass from a villain who will never personally make an appearance in the rest of the book. It's clichéd and not all that effective. Follow this up with our titular soon-to-be-apprentice being an orphaned "ward" of the state staring down the barrel of some life-determining selection or appointment and I was about ready to give up on the novel.

Another early problem with the book is the implied tension in Halt's arrival to the apprenticeship council and Will's rejection from battle school. We're supposed to feel something, I believe, akin to what Will might be feeling - "what's this creep doing here; what does he want with me; why have I been denied what I want; what's written on that piece of paper?" Except we, the reader, know the series is called the Ranger's Apprentice. It's very easy to decipher, then, that Will is expected to let curiosity get the best him and try to ascertain the letter from the Baron's tower, a perfect test for a would-be Ranger whose only admittedly skill is he's a pretty decent climber. This sequence of events felt very heavy-handed and pretty predictable.

All that being said, I soon found myself swept up in the story, once the fantasy novel tropes had been dutifully checked off the list. There are a lot of good things going on in this story. The characters are genuine and play well off each other. The pacing is fantastic and always kept me anticipating the next turn. The world-building, though not super evolved here (I suspect the scope of things expands in subsequent volumes) is well-thought out. I especially enjoy the whole idea of Rangers, who borrow elements from other fantasy figures (I was reminded for some reason of The Wheel of Time's Thom Merrilin The Eye of the World, with his own distinguished "gleeman's" cloak and skill with throwing knives) but manages to create something, while not entire complex, feels unique. Halt is a trust-worthy mentor and his character popped for me.

And so it happened that as I finished the story, what I ended up liking most about this book was what I sort of didn't like at first. The fantasy tropes are tried-and-true, the writing is a bit on the nose, and nothing gets extensively detailed, but that seemed to work for this tale. I then reminded myself this is a young adult adventure novel for middle-school boys, and realized that if I had read this book at that age I would've loved it. I have two young sons and honestly can't wait to share this book with them. The themes of loyalty, friendship, bravery, and the subplot of Horace's dealings with vicious bullies are really great things to share with young readers. While Flanagan isn't the most nuanced writer, he writes with a passion for the material, without a hint of cynicism or irony; he has great affection for the genre and doesn't try to be too clever for his own good. All in all I found The Ruins of Gorlan a quick and exciting read, and I look forward to continuing the adventure with the second book in the series.

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