A New Adventure in a Familiar World
Half-Araluen, half-Skandian, Hal Mikkelson has always been an outcast. He is smaller and darker than the boys his age and has a penchant for inventing. In the first book in the series, The Outcasts, it is time for Hal and the other sixteen-year-olds to start their training to be proper Skandian warriors. Hal finds himself unexpectedly in charge of a group of boys who, like himself, have never fit in. The boys must band together to prove their mettle as Skandian warriors and Hal must prove himself a true Skandian.
For fans of The Ranger’s Apprentice, John Flanagan has offered up this new series, The Brotherband Chronicles, as a companion series set in the same world but in the Viking-like country of Skandia. The series begins in much the same way as Apprentice, with main character Hal Mikkelson beginning on the path to his future. But where Will Treaty began training to become a ranger in solitude with only his mentor for company, Hal starts his training with a group of outcasts like himself. A large part of his training is not only in learning the skills of his trade but in forming a bond with his brotherband.
While many authors are overwhelmed by managing so many characters—Hal, the other five boys in his brotherband, and a number of others—Flanagan does an admirable job of keeping each character distinct and memorable. It is impossible not to mention the drunk Thorn, a former Skandian champion with one arm who becomes a mentor figure for Hal. Though he does not delve deeply into many beyond Hal himself, we get a taste of what is to come from the rest of the series.
What I love most about this book is the way it builds out the world we already know. It gives just enough touches of the familiar (characters like Erak and Svengal, introduced in The Ranger’s Apprentice) to feed the nostalgia of regular Flanagan readers, but stands apart with its own flavor. Skandian traditions, with their heavy investment in fighting and seamanship, feel different than the duty to king and country that permeates the Araluen world.
If I were to change one thing, it would be how detailed Flanagan’s explanations and descriptions tend to be. When mid-action, Flanagan has a tendency to describe not only the action a character takes, but all the little insights that led to that action and how they came to be able to make those observations. For example, he may explain how, during a swordfight, a character recognized a coming attack and blocked it because, thanks to his long hours of practice, he noticed a slight shift in body language. While these insights are interesting, they tend to slow down the action significantly. It takes the reader out of the moment, effectively reducing the tension and excitement. These details could be reduced, or even removed, without hurting the story.
Overall, this is a series I plan to keep reading.