The Battle for Skandia

In book four of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.  Will and Evalyn have escaped thanks to Erak’s help, but have gone from the frying pan into the fire.  The Tamujai are moving into the area.  This is Jon Flanagan’s interpretation of the Huns.  I don’t know that the Huns every tried to invade a Scandinavian country, but it’s an interesting story Mr. Flanagan tells with the Tamujai  trying to invade Skandia to take over their ships. At the same time, I wonder if this move signals a leave from the fantasy world to historical fiction.

I had a love hate relationship with this book. While I was enjoying the world of Skandia, it became clear that the world of “Ranger’s Apprentice” is a Europe-esque world.skandia Celtica, Gallica, Teutland, and Skandia are reiterations of Wales, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, respectively. While this doesn’t bother me in theory, in practice it means that this world isn’t so different from our own and the element of “fantasy” seems to loose its power. If I’m going to read historical fiction, I want to read historical fiction, not just a fantastical version of it.  I’m just curious enough to see where Mr. Flanagan is going with book five.

The fact that some of these countries and people are based on actual peoples and cultures, it became uncomfortable. It seems to play into some stereotypes which flatten the characters and plays off our own conceptions of the cultures and societies associated with these “fantasy” countries in the series. The end of the book recovered some of the esthetic that first drew me to the book, but a lot of the characters are starting to feel flat to me. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mr. Flanagan can reinvigorate them.

The Icebound Land

The third installment of Jon Flanagan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice series, The Icebound Land continues the story of Evelyn and Will’s journey to Skandia. Along the way, they are forced to hunker down on an island outpost with their Skandian captors.  While they are treated fairly well, they know that they face life as a slave unless someone comes to rescue them.  Of course, this being a coming-of-age story, there is someone who is coming to rescue them.  Halt and Horace are fighting their way through Gallica.  Apparently this country is overrun with war lords and this becomes their obstacle to reaching Skandia sooner.

This is definitely a middle book. It starts exactly where the last one left off and there’s absolutely no resolution to anything. It reminds me a lot of Saga of Fire and Ice.  The story feels like it’s splintering into several different related, but separate plot points.  iceboundI’m starting to think the author writes the books in pairs, keeping the overall storyline in mind for the series. The story is engrossing, but there’s definitely a sense that there’s no rush to develop anything or bring anything to a close. That was a let down. I don’t like feeling like what I’m reading doesn’t have a purpose towards drawing the characters into fetcher conflict, development, or the conclusion of the story. The one bright side of this book was the fact that Evelyn takes charge while Will is in his drug stupor. She shows that women are courageous, resourceful, brave, and ingenious without acting like men. She keeps her own identity without sacrificing who she is for any of the male characters. It’s a good lesson for the obvious young male audience for this series.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

gorlanI haven’t been so engrossed in a book since I devoured the Hunger Games trilogy in a matter of days. However, Ranger’s Apprentice became the second book to have captured my attention so much I literally wanted to just rush home from work and read.  The plot of the book seemed to tick off the boxes of things I look for in a book and it never lost its way.The underdog finds a purpose, a thrilling chase takes on life-or-death stakes, and ultimately we learn that heroes are usually the people we least suspect and they typically don’t plan to be a hero.  I typically don’t like to read books that are type-written for specific genders.  However, I will say that sometimes a book does it so subtly that it’s hard for me not to be taken in by it.  This book is definitely a “guy” book in the sense that it understands what young adult guys are looking for in a book and crafts a story that addresses their needs.

I will admit, even as much as I liked it, this book was oddly absent of women. Yes, there’s a few female characters in the beginning and they return at the end. It reminded me a lot of the Lord of the Rings and the absence of female characters. Part of wonders if it’s because the book is set in the Medieval and due to historical constraints there weren’t a lot of women who were becoming Rangers. On the other hand, I’m thinking that since this book is fantasy, why can’t there be more women? At the same time, I will at least acknowledge that there weren’t the stock female archetypes we often see in fantasy and I was grateful for that. I’m curious to see how the series continues and if the lack of female characters will be addressed.  I’m also curious to know what you all think.  Is it “ok” for a book to have an absence of either gender?