by John Flanagan
A good first book for a great, long series. Will, an orphan, must undergo a selection process in order to become an apprentice of some trade or other in his fiefdom. He desperately wants to be a soldier, but he is overlooked and Horace, the boy who bullies Will constantly, is chosen instead. Will has been chosen to be the apprentice of the mysterious Halt, the fiefdom’s ranger. Rangers are trained to be stealth protectors of the kingdom, and Will undergoes intense training to hone his skills in undetected movement, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. When an old enemy from Halt’s past re-surfaces, Will’s training is finally put to the test. Meanwhile, Horace has become the victim of bullies at Battleschool, and must learn how to thwart his foes without showing any weakness that might cause him trouble as a knight’s apprentice.
Honestly, the events of the first book seem boring to describe, as it involves a lot of realistic hard work and character development. Will shows a lot of promise, but he only becomes good at what he does by lots of practice. I thought it was a nice change from a lot of other books where the protagonist is “special” and comes equipped with more power than he knew he had. The mentor-mentee relationship between Halt and Will progresses as the series goes on and is really strong but not overly mushy. The books are dependably righteous adventure novels. Will never really fails or has too many moral quandaries, although he does later have to dig himself out of an accidental drug addiction.
Even though Will is 15 in the first book, a lot of younger kids will find him accessible as a character since he is pretty naive and immature. The way I sell these books to kids is by telling them that it’s set in the times of kings and castles, and a boy has to train as a king’s ranger, which is basically like a medieval ninja.