Posts Tagged ‘john flanagan’

When Baron Morgarath escaped to avoid punishment for treason, an uneasy peace fell on Araluen. But the Rangers know Morgarath will be planning his next move. King Duncan must prepare for war.

Halt volunteers for a seemingly impossible task – climbing the deadly cliffs of the Mountains of Rain and Night and venturing deep into enemy territory to spy on Morgarath. Meanwhile, Crowley must ensure the Queen’s safety as she undertakes her own perilous journey for the sake of her unborn child.

Morgarath’s force of savage, inhuman Wargals seems unstoppable against Duncan’s depleted army. One wrong move could mean defeat. At the Battle of Hackham Heath, the fate of a kingdom will be decided.

Published by Random House

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Flanagan didn’t exactly plan his world for a series of prequels. The placement of the plateau known as the “Mountains of Rain and Night” in the south-east of Araluen makes little sense geographically, and I keep wondering if they were present in the chronologically later novels that he wrote earlier. I’m also beginning to question numbers and distances in his world. King Duncan’s army takes on Morgoroth’s monstrous Wargals with barely five hundred men. There were at least six thousand English at Agincourt, and many more French. Medieval armies could theoretically march 15-18 miles in a day, so how close is Castle Araluen to Hackham Heath, if the King’s army gets there in a matter of days? There is no scale on the map.

That said, other details in Flanagan’s work are well thought out. His army needs to be fed and supplied (although what Wargals eat when they can’t get human is a mystery). The plot is straightforward. The Queen is having a baby, but meanwhile the Kingdom is under threat from Morgoroth’s beasts. The Rangers must scout out Morgoroth’s stronghold, protect the Queen, and then guide the King’s army into battle. And of course, it’s the Rangers who save the day in the end.

I find Flanagan’s prose very easy to read and enjoyable. If only he would create a new and wholly original fantasy world, doing a proper job of world-design, I could really get into his work. But he persists in writing more stories about the same world, and from what I’ve seen, even his fans are tiring of the similarities.


Before they became the most famous Ranger in the land and the hard-working Ranger Commandant, Halt and Crowley were young friends determined to change the world.

The scheming Baron Morgarath is drawing other power-hungry knights and barons to his banner. King Oswald is wasting away and, if gossip can be believed, Prince Duncan is causing havoc in the north.

Halt and Crowley set out to find the prince, uncover the truth, and re-form the weakened Ranger Corps. Once-loyal Rangers are scattered across the country, and it will take determination, skill, and leadership if they’re to come together as one. Can the Rangers regain the trust of the Kingdom, or will the cunning Morgarath outwit them at every turn?


Random House

supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Flanagan continues to mine his “Rangers” world; only now he’s digging into prequel territory.

The flaws in his world-building are still evident – coffee ought to be a rare luxury in any pseudo-medieval world unless the setting is very close to its point of origin (or there are improbable amounts of magic messing around with transport and economics).

I keep wishing he’d chuck out this background and start again doing a proper job of it, because he’s otherwise not a bad writer.

The Tournament at Gorlan fairly rollicks along, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. The story is that the young Prince has be taken captive, and an imposter is stirring up trouble in his name, while the old King is being slowly poisoned in mind as well as body. Our rangers make it their business to get together and put things to rights.

Which they do, culminating in the events of the titular tournament (which I must admit felt more like a modern re-enactment than the real thing, but that’s Flanagan).

The reality is that the majority of his young readers will not even notice the mistakes that annoy me, and this is probably the best of his work that I’ve read so far. Which is as close to a recommendation that you’re going to get.


Scorpion Mountain

Here we go again… Flanagan has found a formula for young adult fantasy that clearly sells, but is seriously flawed by lazy world-building and in this case, dubious plotting. He splits the party and sends a group of just three individuals into the evil lair… If I was the game master they’d suffer for that, and the players would have trouble convincing me that those characters should survive. But this isn’t my game, it’s Flanagan’s and he’s way too nice to his characters. He even gives them water closets – which takes some justification in a pseudo-medieval setting. As does the architecture. Castle Araluen is described as a “mass of graceful spires, soaring turrets, flying buttresses and fluttering pennants”. Sounds more like Disneyland than anything reasonable in a low magic medieval fantasy world. Then there’s the decidedly modern Arabic menu including tomatoes in the tabbouleh (they’re from the Americas), and the gaudy clothes of the Hellenic corsairs – tricky with natural dyes. Most curious of all is the land yacht that Hal constructs from old chariot wheels and bamboo (not sure about finding that in pseudo-Arabia). I’d really like to see the Mythbusters investigate the feasibility of building such a thing.

All of this made it really difficult for me to suspend disbelief and actually enjoy the story. Which felt contrived and formulaic, especially the whole scorpion cult business in a world that seems otherwise quite lacking in religious beliefs. For what it’s worth, the scorpion goddess of ancient Egypt, Serket, was not at all evil, more a protector against venoms and poisons. And you have to wonder at Flanagan’s use of pseudo-Islamic terminology… the invented word tolfah for fatwa for example. I would have thought it safer to avoid anything remotely resembling the modern Middle East. And there’s so many other less well-known cultures to steal ideas from. It’s evident that his many fans continue to enjoy Flanagan’s work, but I’m afraid it’s just not good enough.

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Slaves of Socorro

There is a reason why Flanagan’s “Socorro” sounds like Morocco… it is plainly based on the Morocco of the Barbary slave traders, who preyed upon the European coasts as far north as Iceland through the 16th to 19th century (until they finally got pummelled by the Americans). Problem is that the Vikings raided and traded from the 9th to 11th centuries, so there is no way in our history that a band of Vikings would find themselves rescuing a bunch of Anglo-Saxons from Barbary slavers – which is essentially the plotline of this novel.

It may be young adult fantasy… but I do find the constant anachronisms jarring. Flanagan has put a great deal of research into his sailing ships, but seemingly rather less into other matters – foodstuffs for one thing. Without magic or technology foods just don’t keep unless you get into salting and pickling, so how Edwin’s fillet of beef was edible after a sea voyage of some days I cannot guess. And let’s not get into coffee and potatoes…

But at the same time, Flanagan’s prose is very readable, his characters memorable, and his plot, if a little obvious, is carried off with panache. He’s fun to read, and I know he’s popular with his audience. It’s just that I wish he had been either more realistic or more fantastic in his world construction.

Random House

Supplied by Random House NZ

Reviewed by Jacqui

rangers apprentice

For all that it is the twelfth and last book in a young adult fantasy series, I have to say this read remarkably well. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, and I had little trouble getting into it. The major characters were well-developed, and the author puts words together in an easy flow.

 The plot is simple enough. Rebellious young princess, instead of being married off like the average medieval royal offspring, is apprenticed to a Ranger. Much of the first half of the book revolves around her training and maturation into a civilised human being, learning important lessons about the consequences of her actions – such as getting drunk. The latter half focuses on her first mission as an apprentice, and the rescue of the kidnapped kids.

Flanagan’s world was easy to get into… perhaps too easy. Too simplistic in too many ways, too fraught with anachronisms, and altogether too derivative. There is a clear lack of imagination and depth in world design when you have “Iberian” slavers speaking what is plainly Spanish, abducting children to be taken to “Socorro”. Medieval fantasy worlds don’t have restaurants or the germ theory of disease, they don’t even have teenagers… that concept is a twentieth century invention. The Rangers are far too reminiscent of the Heralds of Valdemar, right down to the talking horses…

 Of course, none of these flaws will prevent the intended audience from loving the book. And it is certainly an enjoyable read, with plenty to commend it. I just happen to think that young people deserve better. (Oh, and for those who are curious about such things, you can find the world map on line at

Random House New Zealand

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui