Erak's Ransom: The Ranger's Apprentice

Alas, this was my least favorite of the Ranger's Apprentice series so far.  The main problem is that when Flanagan wrote books 1-6, he skipped a period of Will's history in the Ranger Corps that he later decided to go back and write.  This method of writing within a specific universe and time doesn't always fail--Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels jump all over the place in time, but because she's given herself a very broad world in which to work, and a large time period, it totally works.  Each series fleshes the world out further.  In the case of Erak's Ransom, it ended up being an unnecessary addition to the series, despite Flanagan's protestations that it was a crucial time period to cover.

From book 4 to book 5 there is a goodly gap of time.  Books 5 & 6 chroncicle Will's first assignment as a full-fledged Ranger.  Erak's Ransom skips back in time to just before Will's graduation.

Erak, Oberjarl of the Skandians and Will's friend, feels antsy sitting around in the great hall all day, making pronouncements and dealing with petty disputes.  What Erak likes best is sailing his wolfship and plundering unsuspecting countrypeople, as any respectable Viking-inspired character would do.  So, he takes off on a jaunt to capitalize on some information he received about a rich trade city in Arridia, far to the south, in the desert.  As anyone with a respectable brain (and this really should include Erak, as he is a cunning fellow) should have guessed by now, it's a trap!  Erak is captured by the Arridians and held for ransom.  Erak sends Svengal, one of his men, back to Will's homeland to ask for help in negotiating the ransom.  However, there is another layer to this mess.  Only the Skandians knew of Erak's trip, and only a Skandian could have alerted the Arridi to the raid.  Erak is facing a usurper and possible civil war if he doesn't play his cards right.

Long story short, Will, Evanlyn (the Princess Cassandra, who pretty much never goes by that name), Horace, Halt, and Gilan, along with Svengal and his Skandian raiding party, make the trek to Arridia.  Cassandra goes in her father's stead, which sets up a cozy little opportunity for Flanagan to get in some grrl-power! scenes between her and her father.

Unlike the other books in the series, this was just not a fun book.  I didn't say, "Oooh, I get to keep reading my book tonight!"  It was more like, "What now?"  After the initial negotiations, Evanlyn effectively drops into a plot black hole, only to be pulled out like a rabbit out of a hat when needed during the final battle.  Horace, too, doesn't do much of use or note.

To sum up, in this book, Things Happen, but they don't really matter because if you've read books 5 and 6, you already know the outcome.  If I may use the term "slog" in a desert setting, this is it.

Definitely not the best in the series, and I'm looking forward to getting back on track with book 8.


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