Ruins of Gorlan

Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan is the first of the Ranger's Apprentice series.  I came to this one by local library colleagues, who I asked for some of the best and most popular new-ish middle-grade fantasy.  I can see why this one is a winner.  Among the castle wards, it has come time to choose a path in life, and Will thinks he wants to go to Battleschool even though the bully Horace is going there as well.  But, in fact, when the choosing comes, a letter arrives about Will but its contents are not revealed to him.  Will climbs to the tower where the letter was last seen, and there he is surprised by Halt, one of the Rangers, and discovers that he has in fact been chosen to serve as one of the mysterious Rangers.  Once he is used to the idea, Will thrives under Halt's exacting guidance.  But a war is brewing, and the evil Morgarath has loosed two monstrous creatures on the land, killing some of the kingdom's most brilliant warriors in secrecy.  Halt and the Rangers discover what is happening, and so they set out, with young Will, to kill the monsters.  I'll not spoil it by saying how Will saves the day, but suffice it to say that there's a happy ending to this battle, with more books in the series to come.

Fans of the first Harry Potter book will love it for its relatively short length, action-packed adventure, special hero Will (whose mysterious identity is revealed by the end of this book), and general kids-growing-up-and-saving-the-world flavor.  As compared to Harry Potter, this is simpler, with less humor and somewhat less character development.  That's not to say there is none of either.  In fact, the character of Halt the Ranger is nicely detailed with some wry witticisms, and Will's own emotional world is just evident enough to keep the reader engaged with his struggles.  Side character Horace's story is flatter, and his transformation from bully to victim of bullying is a bit pat.  Still, it's a good read, and I'd definitely recommend this to middle school readers looking for easier fantasy or a stepping stone to the longer Harry Potter books. 

Much as I have waaaaay too many other things to read, I think I'm going to buy the sequel on Kindle for bedtime reading.  So that's a pretty good endorsement!  I hardly ever have or take the time to read further books in a series beyond the first these days, what with the demands of work in general and the fantasy class in specific.  Students tend to get annoyed when I assign sequels, and I don't really blame them. 

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