This fantasy adventure is the third book in the "Ranger's Apprentice" series by John Flanagan and is published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
The Icebound Land is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Will, an apprentice Ranger, and Evanlyn (secretly Cassandra, Princess of Araluen), were captured by Erak and his crew of Skandians in book two. Now, terrible storms pummel the ship on which they're sailing and force the Skandians to winter on a small island. When the ship finally reaches Skandia, Will and Evanlyn become slaves. Will's tasks are particularly strenuous and require him to work in freezing water. One of the other slaves gives him an herb called warmweed that seems to heat up his body. Soon, he is addicted and becomes mentally and emotionally vacant. When Erak sees what's happened to Will, he helps him and Evanlyn escape. Erak gives her food, directions to a cabin where they can spend the winter and a small supply of warmweed so she can wean Will off the drug. Evanlyn cares for Will for months until he begins to overcome the addiction.
Meanwhile in Araluen, Will's mentor, Halt, gets drunk in public and slanders King Duncan. This forces the King to release Halt from his Ranger duties and banish him from Araluen so he's free to hunt for Will. Will's former schoolmate, Horace, joins Halt on his journey. As Halt and Horace travel through Gallica, they encounter many freelance knights who block bridges and byways. The knights insist travelers either pay or fight them to get through. Since Horace is an excellent swordsman, he begins to challenge the knights and defeat them. He gains a reputation, and a local warlord named Deparnieux decides to make an example of these two Araluens. He captures and imprisons them for months until they trick him into a duel with Halt. Halt kills Deparnieux, and he and Horace continue their quest to find Will.
King Duncan, Evanlyn's father, is a beloved ruler. He reluctantly banishes Halt from the kingdom for treason, but he understands the Ranger's desire to find his apprentice. Deparnieux is an evil leader who rules by instilling fear. He taunts and tortures people to keep his reputation. Halt guides and looks out for Horace while passionately seeking to rescue Will. He lies to Horace (to protect the boy's innocence) and gets drunk publicly (to gain an audience with the king).
Superstitious folks believe the Rangers are black magicians. In reality, they are just trained to be stealthy and conceal themselves well. Reflecting on the bleak landscape, the narrator says it's as though whatever gods the Skandians worshiped had removed all color from this place. Characters frequently wish each other good luck and call other fortunate situations "strokes of luck." An old woman makes a strange criss-cross gesture at Halt after he refuses to give her money. In a dangerous situation, Evanlyn's sixth sense causes her to hesitate and saves her life. One of the Skandian plunderers has taken a vow to three gods of vengeance called the Vallas. This Vallasvow means the Skandian plans total vengeance, in this case on King Duncan and his entire family.
The Lord's name is taken in vain a few dozen times, and words such as d--n and h--- appear, too. Evanlyn mutters an "unladylike swearword" and Deparnieux "curses violently." While Will works as a slave, he sees one boy brutally lashing at another with a rope, causing immense blood letting and bruising. Deparnieux keeps people in cages along the roadside for months at a time, allowing them to waste away. Birds tear at their flesh and pluck out their eyes.
Halt and Horace encounter some attractive girls in skimpy clothing as they pass through Gallica. The naïve Horace asks why their skirts are so short. Halt tells him the girls are couriers, and the short skirts allow them to run faster to deliver urgent messages. Halt reasons that Horace has plenty of time later to learn about the seamier side of life. Evanlyn kisses Erak's cheek to thank him for helping her and Will escape.
Aurealis Awards Highly Commended Book, 2005
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Alcohol: Halt gets drunk in a local tavern and begins slandering the king. The Skandians, cooped up waiting to sail home, spend most of their time gambling and drinking to the point of drunkenness. This leads to mean behavior toward each other and toward Will and Evanlyn. Halt and Deparnieux drink wine with their meals. Evanlyn drinks wine with Erak when he's helping her plot the escape. She realizes she hasn't had alcohol in many months and should watch her step.
Drugs: A Skandian slave leader controls his slaves by getting them addicted to a drug called warmed.
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