No review of Brotherband: Outcasts would be complete without mention of the hugely successful Ranger’s Apprentice series that made John Flanagan a household name. The Ranger’s Apprentice is much more than a boy’s own adventure series. Flanagan’s masterful narrative style is engaging and unobtrusive while his character, plot and world building are beyond reproach – almost. By the end if the first book, Araluen and its inhabitants were fully formed and believable. They were the type of characters I was willing, nay, keen, to invest the hours required to read all 11 books in the series. 11 books is a fairly substantial commitment and the series almost pulled it off, if only it hadn’t jumped the shark at the end of The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. I really don’t think we read 10 books of adventure and daring just to end up with a royal wedding!
But John Flanagan is a clever, clear man. He squeezed every drop of adventure from the Will and Halt et al dynamic and has branched off to tales of an Araluen-Skandian lad whose ingenuity is set to rival or even surpass Will’s, and with a mentor who we’re sure will redeem himself as the series moves on.
I started reading Brotherband constantly distracted by really wanting to know what Will and the gang were up to, but a couple of chapters into The Outcasts and I was hooked. It’s not that the Ranger’s Apprentice characters have been replaced, that could never happen, it’s just the next generation. Degrassi High to Degrassi Jnr High, without the 80’s hair and teenage pregnancies, if you will. Equal but different.
Just as exciting as anything else in the new series, Erak the Skandian Oberjarl plays a starring role. Erak, like Froi*, is one of those characters that you had to love from the beginning, even while he was running around kidnapping Will and Evanlyn and in the employ of the arch villan Lord Morgarath. What would my world be like without curses such as “Gorlag’s beard”!?! Erak is fierce, fearsome and fiery, but like all Skandians, his extreme outrageousness lightens the tension perfectly.
This series is set to be another page turner, but I have just one criticism. What is John Flanagan’s obsession with tall, slim blondes? Ok, it would be a little unusual to have a brown-eyed girl as a love interest in a Viking inspired world, but what about strawberry-blonde. I found it a little overdone in the Ranger’s Apprentice and was the only detail that made me groan in the new series. Spoiler alert: Hopefully now that Hal and the crew are exiled from Skandia we lay the scene for a more rainbow cast of characters.
*Ok, maybe we didn’t really love Froi when we met him, maybe we only kind of liked him at the end of Finnikin of The Rock, but believe me, you will be cheering for him by the end of Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta.