Ranger's Apprentice: The Kings of Clonmel

After the giant misstep that was Erak's Ransom, Flanagan gets back on track with the tried-and-true knights n' spies game in The Kings of Clonmel.

It's by no means a perfect book, but it's satisfying for a series fan, plus there is trial by combat.  Hello?  Yes, a win.  Also TWINS and USURPERS and DISGUISES and all sorts of fun stuff.

I love to recommend this series to kids who are moving out of kidlit and into YA but might not be ready for some of the gorier bits.  Some parents also get really concerned about cursing and sexual content in books, and this is really tame without being at all preachy.  Basically, it's like a really safe gateway drug (is that an oxymoron) to more epic fantasy.

If you're reading this series in numerical order, congratulations!  You've made it through the epic slog that was Erak's Ransom and will be rewarded with a true-to-form good ol' fantasy with lots of swords, battle horses, insane feats of archery, and threats to the kingdom.

In The Kings of Clonmel, Halt discovers that there is a "cult" of "religious" (all ironic quotation marks intended ironically) fanatics roaming around the neighboring kingdom of Clonmel (which is rather like Ireland, if we're taking Araluen as the UK and Gallica as France and so forth).  He recognizes them as another incarnation of what basically amounts to conquest via trickery and mercenaries: the new religion claims to give the protection of a god, but if the townspeople don't pay up, robbers and murderers show up and cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war (sorry).  Hmm, do you possibly think that the two groups are in cahoots?  Halt knows they are, but the villagers don't.  He induces the head of the Ranger Corps to do some finagling so that his former apprentice, Will, and their good friend Horace, a knight and presciently good fighter, join him in stopping the spread of this cult across Clonmel.  If Clonmel falls ... Araluen might be next.

Complicating matters is the fact that the last autonomous king of Clonmel is actually Halt's twin brother.  And Halt, as the elder twin, should have been king, but his younger brother, being a devious sort, preferred to continually attempt to assassinate his brother even though Halt showed no interest in being king.

O ho!  Now you see how this can be fun.  There is sneaking around in forests, and disguises, and infiltrations, and more disguises, and a seriously awesome combat sequence at the end that is reminiscent of Ivanhoe.  Obviously the kids reading this serious wouldn't have gotten to Sir Walter Scott yet, but if you whet their appetite with this, they'll probably be more likely to grab that classic once they get a bit older.

Actually, that's really why I enjoy this series.  Not only is it easy to read, but it's appropriate for older kids and teens who aren't ready for the serious (and historically accurate) blood and guts of the actual Middle Ages in literature.  Ranger's Apprentice introduces them to concepts used in that time period, and once they get into meatier stuff, it won't seem so foreign.  Plus, I mean, Halt.  Halt is just Awesome (with a capital A).  Will, the erstwhile protagonist, is fine and all, but you know everyone just reads this for Halt.

Highly recommended for middle schoolers or those whose parents object to excessive violence, cursing, and sexuality.


  1. I love this series for its humour and for the fact that there is pretty much no actual magic in it. I'm currently finishing off the fifth volume in the Brotherband spinoff series for the Aurealis Awars(for Australian SF/F, children's section). In case you haven't read them, they're centred around Skandia, after Erak has become the ruler, about a bunch of kids who went to a boot camp type thing where you form a Brotherband who become a ship's crew. These kids are the ones left over when everyone else has picked their team, and the leader is Hal, a sort of Skandian Will, with a kind of Skandian Halt who was his father's best friend and a fantastic fighter, but has turned into the local drunk since he lost his hand. That is solved soon enough by the fact that Hal is an inventor, who fits him with extensions he can screw in... As well as inventing a lot of other things that give his Brotherband a huge advantage.

  2. Oooh! I'm trying to finish the Ranger's Apprentice series first, but I got a free copy of the first book in the Brotherband Chronicles at C2E2 (a comic con) last year. It's glaring at me on my shelf right now. Onward with Ranger's, then on to Brotherband! Thanks for the rec! It's moving up my list.

  3. Just be aware the first volume is pretty much introductory as The Ruins Of Gorlan was for RA. The real adventure begins near the end and continues in a story arc over three volumes. But it has the same humour and likeable characters. You can't help loving the Skandians anyway, with their idea of battle tactics being, "Charge!"

    1. Is it odd that I really love those introductory novels? I always prefer the first in a series because it has that promise of something totally new!

      You're right, the Skandians are quite likeable, like battle-axe-wielding deadly teddy bears.


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