I’m not normally very interested in ghost stories. Even growing up, at sleep overs, I always found them a little boring. So it was a pleasant surprise to find a collection of short ghost stories which I actually enjoyed. Better yet to find a collection that makes me question my preconceptions about the world that I live in and how I am able to influence my reality.
It was really enjoyable to delve into Halt’s history and his past. He is the perfect enigmatic mentor for Will (and even Horace), so his history and what led him to become the mysterious hero that we love and know has fascinated me since the inklings of it in Oakleaf Bearers. The presence of his twin brother, and the reminder that no matter how many genes two people have in common, they can still become completely different characters. Halt’s steadfastness and admirable sense of self are severely juxtaposed by his brother’s entire persona – a great reminder that it is our choices that create us, not our parentage.
It was fun to flash back in time after the conclusion of The Siege of Macindaw. Will’s last year as a Ranger was always going to be an important story, if not just for his graduation, but also his hopes and dreams for his own future. The fact that this gets wrapped up with rescuing Erak from another fascinating nationality (the Arridi) just added to the feeling of excitement and closure at Will’s final year of apprenticeship.
The depth of Will’s care for his loved ones becomes blatantly obvious in The Siege of Macindaw. The lengths to which he is willing to go to rescue Alyss are remarkable, and the depth of his conviction throughout this story is incredibly endearing. It is also a great hallmark of the man that Flanagan was able to effortlessly create out of the boy who started out confused and scared in The Ruins of Gorlan.
A Piece of Time was a very quaint short story – a tale of love, fate and the importance of family. The sweetness of this story shines from the pages left me smiling in contentment at the conclusion of this tale. Like all of Harding’s stories, there is an understanding of the spiritual world that I rarely find in good stories – instead of a bastardisation of such beliefs to suit the story, the story has been built up around the practices and beliefs themselves.
The ending of this story was completely different to what I expected – and honestly, all the better for it. Riane’s strength and independence, her very place in the world is placed under strain and, like diamonds placed under pressure, the resulting heroine that is displayed is a gem beyond compare. The haunting ending also hints at many happy events in her future, even though, at the conclusion of the story, and following her final decision, there is no hints as to what this may be.
This story left me feeling… humbled. Just humbled. These twelve women will touch you in a way that you can’t imagine, and their lives set amidst the beauty of Africa are guaranteed to linger in your mind’s eye for years after you close the cover. It is just an incredibly powerful, moving and honest set of stories. The truth is met unflinchingly and without hesitation. Yet, in all of Sara's interviews, there is no anger and bitterness, rather, a simple acceptance for what has been suffered and an optimism for what they may face in the future.
This short story touched on a fear and worry that I myself, as a writer have – dying before I have finished telling the stories that are swirling around in my head. Harding’s grasp of this and her ability to twist this fear into a ghost story that had my spine tingling and left me internally cringing created a great short story which I am genuinely struggling to get out of my head. What better way to inspire a writer to actually write, than tell a story about one who is no longer able to put pen to paper?
Although this is a ghost story, and a phenomenal one at that, it also makes me want to do a health detox. After all, that was the instigating factor for the paranormal chaos that followed. Plus, the idea of removing toxins from the body is always an interesting one. Although, each and every person tends to have their own take on how this works, I mostly enjoyed the idea that the detox focused on removing things like alcohol and cigarettes. Yes, there were other aspects of the detox factor, but the idea to find a happier, healthier you was inherent within the characters’ motivations – something which I can appreciate. The fact that a happier, healthier body meant better access to the paranormal world and the girls’ spiritual understanding? Just a fantastic angle to the story!
The first four books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series focus on Will’s apprenticeship, and therefore, a lot of the time, it is Halt that eventually gets him out of the slightly tricky situations in which he finds himself. However, as a newly qualified Ranger, Will must find his own style and strength on his first solo mission. This progression of Will’s place in society is so seamless, that it isn’t until at least halfway through the book that you realise that you are half waiting for Halt to appear out of nowhere to offer some friendly advice and guidance.