Ranger's Apprentice: Book Four
Spring arrives at the cabin high in the Skandian mountains where Evanlyn and Will have wintered. Will has shaken his addiction to the insidious warmweed, and Evanlyn has become comfortable with her new survival skills. One day she goes out to check their traps and does not return. Will, still weakened from the brutal life of a Skandian yard slave, goes looking for her, and their adventures begin --- again.
John Flanagan's Ranger’s Apprentice series began four books ago with THE RUINS OF GORLAN, about a young boy who is chosen to train to become a Ranger. Rangers function as their kingdom's intelligence-gathering agency, border patrol and guerrilla fighters. They are skilled in stealth, woodcraft and marksmanship. Their acutely trained reflexes, along with their tracking skills and the ability to go unnoticed in almost any environment, give them a reputation that borders on the uncanny.
Initially, Will is disappointed not to be chosen for his kingdom's Battle School, where the knights of the realm are trained. But his respect and affection for Halt, the ranger to whom he is apprenticed, in addition to the role he plays in fighting the evil warlord Morgorath, soon have him committed to his role as apprentice ranger.
The first book in the series has all the hallmarks of typical sword and sorcery fantasy, with a classic good vs. evil conflict. But after Morgorath is defeated at the end of the second installment, THE BURNING BRIDGE, the adventure becomes more complex. Will and his companion Evanlyn are captured by Skandian raiders and become slaves in Skandia. It is only with the help of their captor Erak, who comes to admire the spirit of his young captives, that they are able to escape.
The changing loyalties that were a central piece of book three, THE ICEBOUND LAND, continue in THE BATTLE FOR SKANDIA. Will is reunited with his friends Halt and Horace, who left Araluen against their king's wishes to search for him and Evanlyn. They also discover the large army of Temujai --- fierce riders from the Asian steppes who seem to be based on the Mongols --- and must convince the Skandians to work with them to prevent the Temujai from overrunning Skandia and mounting an attack on Araluen.
Flanagan's strengths as an author are his action sequences and battle strategies. His battle plans and descriptions of fights are so detailed they could easily be reenacted or plotted on a map. He also writes marvelous relationships between the characters. Horace and Will began as enemies, but their rivalry has evolved into a powerful friendship. Halt's gruff affection for Will is clear, and his clever manipulations of the other characters provide much of the book's plot. Erak, a Skandian raider, has emerged as one of the series’ most entertaining characters --- alternately fierce and comedic. Evanlyn, who occupies the unenviable role of princess in disguise, holds her own with the other characters, who have often depended upon her for their survival.
A common theme throughout the book is the primacy of personal relationships over loyalties to one's country or duty. This bears fruit when Erak's friendship with Will and his companions enables them to unite the Skandians and the Araluen slaves to fight against their common enemy --- the Temujai (portrayed as people who put their lives and loyalty to the common cause as secondary behind any personal relationships). With Erak's help and Halt's strategy, along with the skills of each of the companions, they mount a stirring defense against the mounted warriors.
THE BATTLE FOR SKANDIA will be enjoyed most by readers already familiar with the first three books in the series. But catching up should not constitute serious hardship for fans of fast-paced action/adventure.
Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on January 8, 2009
Ranger's Apprentice: Book Four
- Publication Date: January 8, 2009
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Puffin
- ISBN-10: 0142413402
- ISBN-13: 9780142413401