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“I don’t recall it saying anywhere that a man is measured by how many hands and legs he has. A man is measured by the worth of his spirit, and the strength of his will. Most of all, he’s measured by his ability to overcome tragedy in his life,” Katina. –The Outcast
Brotherband Chronicles #1
by John Flanagan
Hal never knew his father, a Skandian warrior. But unlike his esteemed father, Hal is an outcast. In a country that values physical strength over intellect, Hal’s ingenuity only serves to set him apart from the other boys his age. The one thing he has in common with his peers is Brotherband training. Forced to compete in tests of endurance and strength, Hal soon discovers he’s not the only outcast in this land of seafaring marauders—and that his battle for acceptance has just begun.
Hal and his best friend, Stig, have always felt like outsiders. People have looked down on Hal because he is half-Araluen, and they look down on Stig because his mother makes a living doing other people’s washing. When the two boys go to Brotherband training, Tursgud and Rolland choose their team members, and the eight boys who were not picked form the third Brotherband. Hal is chosen as the reluctant leader of the third Brotherband, the Herons.
As the three teams compete against each other, the Herons learn to help and rely on each other. While few people believe the Herons can be turned into warriors, Hal and his ragtag group find creative ways to defeat the other teams. Even though many of the Herons do not have physical prowess, each member of the Brotherband has an important role. Everyone—even a half-blind boy—can contribute. Through their experiences, readers will learn the importance of controlling their anger, working as a team, taking responsibility for their actions, and using their intelligence.
Middle school readers will relate to Hal and the other Herons as they fight to prove their worth. The story focuses on Hal, who is often criticized for his creative intelligence. However, it is this very intelligence that allows the Herons to win competitions. The Skandia society admires warriors who have strength, courage, and are not afraid of going to battle. These Skandian qualities allow the fast-paced story to have many exciting scenes as well as many descriptions of bullying and violence.
The connecting story arcs, difficult vocabulary, and huge cast of characters make The Outcast best for stronger readers. The conclusion connects all of the story arcs together and ends with a surprising twist. The Brotherband Series features several adults that also appear in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series. Despite this, readers do not need to read the Ranger’s Apprentice Series in order to understand the Brotherband Chronicles. Both series appeal to a wide audience because of the engaging plots, the likable characters, and the life lessons.
- The Herons are declared champions and, “Hal was delighted when a certain blond-haired girl slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips.”
- During a raid, village soldiers go after the Skandians. One of the Skandian warriors “slammed the flat of his ax into the shoulder of the charging horse, throwing it off balance. As it stumbled, he drove forward with his shield, hitting the animal again and sending it reeling to one side.” The rider falls off and when the Skandian scares the man, he runs away.
- As the Skandians are heading back to their ship, one warrior named Mikkel is injured by a spear. “The heavy iron head penetrated underneath Mikkel’s raised arm, burying itself deep in his upper body. He let go a small cry and fell to his knees, then crumpled sideways.” Mikkel dies from his injuries. The raiding scene is described over three pages.
- A known bully, Tursgud, insults Hal and Hal’s mother. Hal “thrust forward and shoved both hands into Tursgud’s chest, sending the bigger boy stumbling and falling in the soft sand.” The bully “grabbed Hal’s shirt front in his left hand and drew back his right, fist clenched.” An adult breaks up the fight.
- Pirates attack a group of cargo ships. When the pirates board one ship, the ship’s captain “hears the sounds of battle, axes and swords clashing against each other. . . He heard men shouting, heard the defiant war cries of the Rainbow’s crew.” The Rainbow’s crew was “murdered in a few brief seconds.”
- The pirates board another ship, the Golden Sun. “The clash of weapons had died away and there was a series of splashes alongside. He [the captain] realized that the pirates were throwing the crews’ bodies overboard.”
- The pirates overtake a third ship. The Skandian crew “smashed into the disorganized pirates, their heavy oaken shields used as weapons of offense, slamming into the pirates and hurling them to either side. The first rank of the pirates fell before the massive onslaught. The deck ran red with their blood. . .” The pirates throw the captain and his nephew overboard and kill the entire crew. The pirate scenes are described over 10 pages.
- One of the boys misinterprets an instructor’s command. Next, the instructor “realized that the tree trunk-sized club was whistling through the air at blinding speed, and in the next half second would knock his head clean off his shoulders. With a startled yelp, he dropped flat on the still-wet ground, feeling the wind of the massive weapon as it passed over his skull, missing him by a few centimeters.”
- Tursgud and his brotherband corner Hal. Hal “sent two lightning left jabs into Tursgud’s face, feeling the other boy’s nose crunch under the impact of the second, then stepped forward and hooked savagely with his right at the big boy’s jaw, hoping to end it there and then.” The last punch misses and the fight continues.
- Tursgud’s friends grab Hal and hold him captive. “Hal’s ears were ringing and he realized that consciousness was slipping away from him. A hand grasped his hair and pulled his head up, sending tears flowing from his eyes with pain. . . the fist scrape painfully along the side of his face, tearing at his ear, so that blood started to trickle down his face.” By the end of the fight, Hal is semiconscious. The vicious fight takes place over six pages.
- During the fight, Tursgud’s brotherband ties up Stig, stopping him from helping Hal.
- One of the brotherband’s competitions is a wrestling match. During a match between Bjorn and Stig, Bjorn throws insults. Stig angrily attacks, which allows Bjorn to pin him. Bjorn “raised his right foot and placed it in Stig’s belly. At the same time, he fell smoothly back onto the grass, then straightened the leg, adding his left leg to the thrust as he rolled backward into the grass.” Bjorn was able to pick up Stig and “the Herons’ representative flew for several meters, landing heavily on his back with an ugly thud that drove the air out of his lungs.” There are three wrestling matches that are described over sixteen pages.
- During a competition, Stefan mimics Tursgud’s voice in order to confuse Tursgud’s brotherband. When Tursgud sees Stefan, Tursgud runs after him. Tursgud “rapidly overtook Stefan and hurled himself on him, driving him to the ground. Stefan curled in a half ball, elbows and knees up to protect himself from the wild punches Tursgud was throwing.” An instructor breaks up the fight.
- Pirates sneak into town and kill two of the town watch. Someone reports, “Their throats had been cut.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Thorn becomes a drunk after his best friend dies in battle. At one point, Thorn “had become so drunk the previous night that he had lost his way while heading back to the boatshed where he lived. He had crawled into the shelter of the wall, out of the wind, and laid down, vaguely hoping to die.” While Thorn stops drinking in chapter two, others often talk about his drunkenness.
- After his friend’s death, Thorn became depressed and looked “for comfort in an ale or brandy tankard. There was very little comfort in either, but there was oblivion, and a strong drink helped him forget his loss, albeit temporarily.”
- After the Herons are forced to surrender their title, Thorn thinks about Hal’s dismal future and he wants to drink. He gets a strong brandy that was hiding in his room. He is able to resist the temptation because he realizes, “If he drank himself insensible, he would eventually wake up. And this situation would not have changed.” His struggle is described over three pages.
- A ship was carrying “valuable goods—oil, wool, fleeces, and brandy.”
- A pirate ship lands in Skandia; the ship is carrying wine.
- When the Herons are declared champions, the town throws a celebration and many of the adults drink ale.
- The Skandians often use their gods’ names as exclamations. For example, when someone sees a drunk, Hal says, “Oh, by Gorlog’s claws and nostrils, Mam! He stinks.” Later, someone uses “Gorlog’s breath” as an exclamation.
- Someone uses “Gorlog and Orlog” as an exclamation. Orlog “was Gorlog’s lesser-known brother, only invoked in moments of great stress or surprise.”
- When two brothers argue they call each other names such as a “bowlegged monkey,” “ugly gnome,” and “numbskull.”
- A boy calls Thorn an “old wreck” and a “dirty old cripple.”
- While fighting, someone calls Tursgud a coward and another boy calls him “coward scum.” As Tursgud punches Hal repeatedly, his brotherband yells, “Kill him! Kill him!”
- Hal is often reminded that he is half Araluen. One boy calls him an “Araluen weasel.” Later, another boy calls him a “mongrel.”
- The characters call each other idiots a few times. For example, Hal yells at two arguing brothers, “You blasted, blithering idiots. . .”
- When an instructor sees two brothers arguing, he tells the group leader, “Gorlog help you if they’re always like that.”
- An adult calls someone a fool.
- The Skandians believe “if a sea wolf died in battle without a weapon in his hand, his soul would wander in the netherworld for eternity.”
- Gorlog “was one of the second rank of Skandian gods, like Ullr the hunter or Loki the liar, although unlike them, Gorlog had no specialized skills.”
- When Hal saw a boy fell, he “breathed a silent prayer of thanks” because the boy’s fall ensured Hal’s brotherband would not be punished.
- Stig calls Thorn a “broken down tramp.” Later Stig apologizes. When Thorn accepts the apology, Stig says, “Well, praise Gorlog for that!”
- While getting ready to sail, Hal tells one of his team members, “ ‘All right Ingvar, pull as if Hulde herself was on your heels.’ Hulde was the goddess of the dead, and definitely not someone you would ever want close behind you.”
- After the Herons fail at protecting an ancient relic, someone says, “Orlog curse the lot of you!”
- When the Herons leave Skandia, someone says, “ ’May Ullr guide you.’ Ullr was the god of hunters.”