This fantasy adventure is the first book in the "Ranger’s Apprentice" series by John Flanagan and is published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
The Ruins of Gorlan is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
On "Choosing Day" in Redmont Fief, 15-year-old Will feels anxious. It's the day he and his four friends, all orphaned wards of the generous Baron Arald, will be selected by local Craftmasters to learn a trade. Each of Will's companions already has an aptitude for his or her career of choice. But Will, who wants to go to Battleschool because he's been told his father was a brave warrior, is too small to be selected. A Ranger named Holt offers to take Will as his apprentice. Will is apprehensive; he's heard the superstitious villagers suggest that the Rangers, a secretive group that guards the kingdom, are black magicians. Will goes to live with Holt and begins to enjoy his training with the somber but kind man. He learns the weapons, tools and tactics of Rangers, which involve more skill and stealth and less brute strength than typical warriors use.
Meanwhile, Will's friend Horace, who was chosen for Battleschool, demonstrates unique skill that gains the attention of his commander, Sir Rodney. But Horace is miserable. He struggles at the hands of three older bullies who pick on him mercilessly. His frustration with life causes him to behave rudely toward Will and the other orphans when they reunite for a holiday.
When Holt learns about a large wild boar causing the locals trouble, he enlists the help of Baron Arald and Sir Rodney to kill it. Sir Rodney invites Horace along. During the intense hunt, a second boar attacks. Will saves Horace's life. Townspeople talk about Will's victory, but the Battleschool bullies taunt and beat on Horace all the more for allowing a Ranger to make a fool of him. When the bullies decide to go to Will’s home and teach him a lesson, Holt turns the tables and makes the bullies fight Horace one-on-one. The bullies are defeated.
Will and Holt attend a Ranger Gathering, where they meet up with Holt's former apprentice, Gilan. The Rangers learn that Morgarath, an evil Baron who seeks to overthrow the kingdom, is preparing for battle. His armies include two types of vicious creatures: Wargals and the even more evil bear-like assassins, the Kalkara, who can paralyze their prey by looking in its eyes. Holt, Gilan and Will hunt for the Kalkara in a distant area called the Solitary Plain while the other Rangers prepare for war. When they determine the Kalkara may be after the king, Holt sends Will to Redmont Fief to enlist Baron Arald and Sir Rodney as reinforcements. The Baron, Sir Rodney and Will arrive just in time to help Holt battle two Kalkara, ultimately destroying both with fire.
Will becomes a hero, and Baron Arald honors him at a public ceremony. The Baron offers Will the chance to attend Battleschool, but Will chooses to remain a Ranger. He learns that part of the reason Holt recruited him was that Will’s father once saved Holt's life.
Baron Arald, Lord of Redmont Fief, is a generous and compassionate man who makes sure orphaned children are raised and given proper care. Holt, though not demonstratively warm with Will, treats the boy with respect and kindness. He patiently trains him in the ways of the Rangers, stressing virtues such as honesty and teamwork. Sir Rodney, who leads the Battleschool, recognizes Horace’s special talents. He encourages Horace to improve, yet doesn’t reveal the full scope of Horace’s potential to him so the boy won’t become conceited. All of these men are upstanding and protective of the young men under their supervision.
Superstitious villagers believe the Rangers practice a black magic that makes them invisible to normal people. In reality, the Rangers are just trained to conceal themselves well. Will thinks it’s bad luck that he hasn’t had long to train before a huge confrontation takes place. The Kalkara have hypnotic powers that allow them to control the minds of their enemies. Morgarath controls the Wargals with his mental orders.
The words d--n, h--- and the Lord’s name taken in vain each appear a time or two. Several violent and mildly gory images are presented, including a wild boar hunt, a fight between Horace and bullies from his school and attacks on the Rangers by the nightmarish Kalkara creatures.
Will’s old schoolmate, Alyss, gives him a brief kiss and tells him she’s proud of him.
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award, 2008; Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award, 2006-2007
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Alcohol: Two of the Battleschool leaders drink a jug of beer together.
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