After Halt and Horace leave for Skandia to rescue Will and Evanlyn, there is a lot that must surely have happened back in Araluen. Halt’s abandonment of his pursuit of Folcar is one such story that never really felt completely finished. After all, he was an immensely dangerous and slippery foe that really needed to be removed from the kingdom. Finally, The Inkwell and the Dagger helps to fill in the gaps about what happened in their absence. After all, the world didn’t stop moving because Halt abandoned his post.
The cryptic message left behind with Will lead to many things throughout the series, especially The Ruins of Gorlan. Not only did it make Will believe that he should have been a knight (after all, his father was a hero), but it also shrouded him in an air of mystery that was both a blessing and a curse. Discovering the true story behind his orphanhood and his heroic father, like all tales, was better than what the character imagined.
In The Kings of Clonmel, we discovered Halt’s history, and, throughout the Ranger’s Apprentice series, his current place in the world is incredibly clear. But, it’s always been a little difficult to understand how Halt went from fleeing his crown to befriending Crowley and saving Araluen. Luckily, Flanagan decided to write The Hibernian to explain this fateful moment in both characters’ lives.
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.
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.
John Flanagan does a wonderful job of taking a nationality as it would have lived and existed in pre-modern times and twisting them to suit his Ranger’s Apprentice series. The Skandians are a fantastic mimicry of the Vikings and manage to capture your interest from the very beginning. However, it is in Oakleaf Bearers that this talent is truly highlighted – the Gallicans and Temujai bring eerily familiar flavours to the tale of Will, Halt, Evanlyn and Horace’s exploits across the seas. Yet, he manages to set these antagonist peoples up in a way that isn’t insulting or degrading to the French and Mongolians upon whom he based these peoples. They may be the bad guys, but they have their own families and ways of life, which Flanagan makes obvious.
This series really begins to read as one continuous story in the third instalment – the journey that Will and Evanlyn take in this novel begins immediately after the end of The Burning Bridge. Likewise, the end of this tale blends seamlessly into The Oakleaf Bearers. Sometimes this is an incredibly odd and sometimes unenjoyable tactic in an authors writing, however, Flanagan is able to pull it off seamlessly. I spent the time reading this not only turning the pages eagerly to find out what happens next in the chapter, but also to get to the next chapter to read the secondary storyline.
Every time I read this, it just gets better! And I still want to cry at the end when Will and Evanlyn are in trouble.