They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice. What he doesn't yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing.
I'd seen this series recommended a few times but since I was suffering through one BookMooch search after another when I found a copy of this one, my ordering it was as much a mark of relief at being able to actually use one of my points than at my inclination to read it. As it happened, I then saw another positive review of it somewhere (I only wish I could remember where...) and it jumped up my list to read. Am I glad it did? Sort of...it's worth mentioning that my personal luke warm feelings towards this book are no doubt a direct result of my age. It wasn't for me, as such, but I can objectively appreciate that it would be perfect for younger readers.
The opening introduces Will, Horace, Alyss, Gilan and Jenny as they line up in front of their adoptive father to volunteer themselves as apprentices to their chosen craftmasters. All of the teens but Will have a clear idea about where their perfect fit lies. The old little-boy-lost routine worked well enough for Will to endear him to me as a character to get behind. The rest of the characters are, sadly, rather one-dimensional. By way of example, Jenny volunteers (and is accepted to) the kitchens as an apprentice to the head chef. She's described as pretty but chubby, with a cheerful personality. She appears at various points throughout the story but is generally sporting some kind of food. Likewise Gilan who apprentices to be a legal clerk and Horace who apprentices to the battle school.
As a result of Flanagan spending so much time establishing the typecast teens, the plot tends towards focusing more on Will and his companions' boarding school type dramas than on a war threatening their very world, complete with a very sweet but rather predictable "boy stands up to bullies" scene.
The prologue hints at the emergence of a force of monsters about to be unleashed on the world but it's not actually until the story is drawing to a close that the action kicks in. I think roughly 175-200 pages in out of 281. I've read somewhere (*cough*Wikipedia*cough*) that these books started out life as short series that Flanagan wrote to inspire his son to read. For that, they are, like I mentioned earlier, perfect.
As the centre of the story, Will is a nice enough character but comes across as significantly younger than 15, so far as my limited knowledge of 15-year-olds goes. I would have found the whole premise a lot more believable if he had been 12 or 13. I'll admit that I've never had the experience of being an orphaned child (fortunately!) but Will clings to the idea that the father he never knew was a great knight with a fervour that was unrealistic for a boy in his late teens. When it comes down to it, this book is simply just aimed too low age-wise for me. I know that if it had been published when I was younger, I would have adored it, bought the whole series and devoured each and every one of them. Sadly, it didn't jump the gap from children's literature to children's literature that adults can appreciate particularly well.
Overall: This book reads very much as a set-up for the series. A short, snappy read so one I'd recommend either for a sunny afternoon read where you want to rest your brain or for younger readers. If you know any young boys that either love to read or just haven't found "that book" yet, you could do much, much worse than give them this.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Date finished: 22 March 2012 Format: Paperback Source: BookMooch Genre: YA/Childrens; Fantasy; Adventure Published: by Puffin in June 2006