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Many of the books on the YA fiction best-seller list involve kids doing all the things they dream about in their games. Saving the kingdom, becoming the best archer, spy, thief or pirate in the world is what they dream of. Books like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ read right into those fantasies.
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The main character of this series, Hal Mikkelson, appeared in the ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ series as an incidental character. Like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’, the story focuses on young people, high adventure and great characters.
Hal and his crew of friends are the outcasts among their peers, bullied because they are smaller than most boys their age. Hal is only half Skandian (Read:Viking) and takes after his other heritage. He and his other outcast friends use Hal’s McGyver skills and their wits to defeat the other boys in a Skandian Brotherband training camp.
The reward for their success is that they get to guard the Andomel, the treasure of the Skandian world. But something bad happens and Hal, his team and their ship end up exiled.
So what do they do? Go look for the Andomel and seek to regain their honor.
Like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’, this is a great adventure focusing on a character who is very relatable. Hal is smart, does not fit in as well but perseveres. I looked forward to every one of these books, just like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ for the good story and fun characters. I also admire that Flanagan writes female characters that are strong and smart, though this book seems to be marketed to boys.
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To quote Jean E Karl of Atheneum Books, this was intended to be “a story for young women in a different part of Pern”.
As a girl who liked to read science fiction and fantasy, I found it was populated by two kinds of female characters: Zero, and empty-headed nitwits. Books like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ with strong women or girls were rare. This series was everything a girl could ask for.
Menolly is a girl living in a remote fishing village who has extraordinary musical ability. But it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever tune more than a tuna fish. A musical career as a harper isn’t considered proper or productive.
When her father forbids her trying to get into Harper Hall, she runs away. When she is trapped in a seaside cave she makes an amazing discovery which changes her path.
There are many books like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ that have young characters who make a choice to change their lives and take a risk. You have a mentor who sees something in each of them which they don’t see themselves and they both find a home where they can work to become something extraordinary. This book like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ has a great mentor like Halt.
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The first book to this 5-book series was written 10 years before the others. Many people read the second book in the series, ‘The Dark Is Rising’ first and then find this one later, which isn’t terrible. This first book takes place before the arc of the last four books in the series. Reading it first helps the rest of the series make sense.
This book, like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ again focuses on young people with special skills. The whole series is based on Arthurian lore, with this one covering the three Drew children and their special destiny tied to the Holy Grail.
On a visit to their Great Uncle Merry (aka Merlin) they discover their place in the continuing battle between Light and Dark. Merry serves as a kind of mentor, but unlike ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ he is not so influential.
Another big difference is that this book has a broader scope, talking about Good and Evil with capital letters and less about battles between armies.
Given the success of the Rick Riordan series with multiple mythologies, I’m sure this one is still popular. ‘The Dark Is Rising’ is rated in the Top 100 Books for Children.
A movie called The Seeker: The Dark is Rising was one of the worst fantasy movies ever. They changed every major point that made the books great. Don’t waste your time, just read the books.
Some kids liked to think they could become wizards like Harry Potter, save the world, or study to be a ranger just like Will. Books like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ let kids do just that, especially if they are girls who are tired of boys getting all the good parts.
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ND Wilson has some amazingly creative ideas, and I would compare him to Phillip Pullman. Henry York is spending time with relatives in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in the loft, when he discovers door knobs growing out or the plaster. It just gets more interesting from thereon in. This book shares ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’s’ sense of adventure, as Henry dares to open the doors and saves a kingdom through wits and trickery.
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Books like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ are about a young character who wants more out of life and this is certainly part of that group. Taran is a pig farmer who discovers his pig is actually an intelligent oracle when she flees the Horned King and he goes after her. In 1985, Walt Disney adapted the story in a movie called The Black Cauldron, but it was a failure grossing only half the money it took to make. Even Alexander commented it didn’t resemble his work.
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While this book does fit in the group of books like ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’, I would say that this is not the best of the lot. Jimmy the Hand is a great character, and the story is generally good. The book reads like a cliché, typical D&D campaign, so much so that you feel like rolling a D10 before each battle scene. It was first released in 1982 after being heavily edited. Then it was re-released after being successful with all the stuff the editors cut out but the author wanted to keep.
Pug is a boy who is apprenticed to a magician while his friend becomes a warrior and they learn their craft until the invaders threaten the peace of the kingdom and they are called to arms. I enjoyed reading it, it moves along and the characters are good. The Riftwar cycle has expanded into a bigger universe so there is more to read here.
One of the reasons for the success of this genre is that all kids dream that there is more to life than school and bed, even 30-year-old kids.
Do you enjoy reading series you read as a child? I find that most of the time, I get something out of it I didn’t see before.
I have a few series I reread every few years, seeking to capture that first-read feeling.
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