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“Once you best a man, never gloat. Be generous and find something in his actions to praise. . . Gloating will only ever make enemies,” Halt. –The Ruins of Gorlan
The Ruins of Gorlan
Ranger’s Apprentice #1
by John Flanagan
Will doesn’t know who his father is, but he has always believed that his father was a knight who died in battle. Will wants to join Battleschool and be like his father. But when it’s time for the fifteen-year-old to get accepted as an apprentice, Will is disappointed that his request to join Battleschool is denied.
Will’s only choice is to become a Ranger’s apprentice. The Rangers’ shadowy ways have always made Will nervous. Will doesn’t understand that Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom who fight the battles before the battles reach the people. Halt, a gruff Ranger, begins to train Will, but neither realize that a large battle is brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, Morgarath is prepared to win at all cost.
The Ruins of Gorlan paints a vivid and realistic picture of medieval times. As a Ranger’s apprentice, Will learns how to blend into the background in order to gain information; he also learns how to defend himself. Horace, a Battleschool student, is the target of intense bullying. Even though he is training to become a knight and defend the kingdom, Horace falsely believes that bullying is part of Battleschool’s initiation process. The two apprentices’ friendship gradually changes. As the boys begin to understand each other, their relationship evolves into a strong friendship. The story uses third-person omniscient point of view to focus on Will’s and Horace’s thought processes, which allows the reader to understand their actions.
The Ruins of Gorlan has many positive aspects: well-developed characters, a believable setting, and realistic, exciting conflicts. As the apprentices learn new skills, the reader comes to understand the importance of hard work, perseverance, loyalty and honor. The male friendships that are forged gives the reader insight on the importance of respecting others and never gloating. Because of their training, both Will and Horace learn how to develop their individual strengths. In the end, Will sets his childhood dream aside because he realizes that becoming a Ranger will bring him more happiness and satisfaction.
The story’s long descriptive scenes and advanced vocabulary such as quartering, gyrate, tumult, and debilitating, make The Ruins of Gorlan perfect for strong readers. Full of action, adventure, and boy-bonding, the story will keep reader’s attention until the very end. With fantastical monsters, honorable characters, and an epic battle at the end, The Ruins of Gorland tells an engaging story while teaching that one should never “judge a man by his position in life.”
- Someone retells a story about one of the wards letting rabbits loose in someone’s study. The person says it was disruptive because, there was “a male and a female rabbit, my lord, if you take my meaning. . . And as I said, my lord, it was spring.”
- A boy meanly tells Horace, “Baby’s a Ward brat. Mummy ran off with a riverboat sailor.”
- While out with his former wardmates, a girl kisses Will. “Her lips on his were incredibly, indescribably soft. Hours later before he finally feel asleep, he could still feel them.”
- As part of the world-building, an old battle is described. The armies fought, and “with attack and counterattack and massive loss of life. The Slipsunder was a shallow river, but its treacherous reaches of quicksand and soft mud had formed an impossible barrier. . .” The losing army retreated.
- When the cook saw Will steal some cakes, the cook hit him “on the head with his wooden spoon. Will grinned and rubbed his head thoughtfully. He could still hear the CRACK! made by the spoon hitting his head.”
- Three bullies force Horace to do pushups. As one of the boys insults him, “His foot shoved viciously into Horace’s back, siding him sprawling on the floor.”
- Horace becomes angry and “he turned back to George and gave him a heavy shove in the chest.” Then Will tricks Horace into riding a horse. The horse quickly bucks him off and then the two boys fight. “In an instant, Horace scrambled to his feet, his face dark with rage. He looked around, saw a fallen branch from the apple tree and grabbed it, brandishing it over his head as he rushed at Tug [the horse].” When Horace again tries to hit Tug, “Will was on him. He landed on Horace’s back and his weight and the force of his leap drove them both to the ground. They rolled there grappling with each other, each trying to gain an advantage. . . Blood ran down the bigger boy’s face. Will’s arms were hard and well muscled after his three months’ training with Halt. . .[Horace] drove a fist into Will’s stomach and Will gasped as the air was driven out of him.” An adult finally breaks up the fight.
- A wild boar attacks “with an infuriated scream, he threw off one of the dogs that still clung to him, paused a moment, then charged at the hunters with blinding speed.” A knight was ready with his spear. “The boar had no chance to turn. His own rush carried him onto the spear head. He plunged upward, screaming in pain and fury, trying to dislodge the killing piece of steal. . . With one last screaming roar, the huge boar toppled sideways and lay dead.”
- After the boar is dead, another one attacks. Will shoots arrows at it. “The arrows stuck out of the boar’s thick hide like needles in a pin cushion. They did no serious harm, but the pain of them burned through the animal like a hot knife.” The boar goes after Will. “Screaming in fury, the huge animal spun in its tracks, skidding in the snow, and came at him again. . . The boar came at a trot, fury in its red eyes, tusks slashing from side to side, its hot breath steaming in the freezing winter air.” Will’s horse, Tug, goes after the boar. “Tug’s hooves caught the pig n the ribs and, with all the force of the pony’s upper legs behind it, sent the boar rolling sideways in the snow.” Finally, Halt shoots an arrow at the boar. “The boar reared up in midstride, twisting in sudden agony, and fell, dead as a stone, in the snow.” The scene is described over three pages.
- The three bullies are upset that Horace “made a fool of the entire Battleschool” because Will had to help him during the boar hunt. “Jerome shoved him against the shoulder as he spoke, pushing him back against the rough stone of the wall.” One of the boys puts a “heavy hessian sack over Horace’s head before he could resist, pulling a drawcord tight so that he was contained from the wait up, blinded and helpless.” The bullies continue to hit Horace. “On and on it went as he writhed on the ground, trying in vain to escape the blows. . . they continued until, gradually, mercifully, he fell still, semiconscious. . . He ached and hurt viciously in every part of his body.” The scene is described over two pages.
- After the bullies beat up Horace, they go to find Will. They tried to put a sock over Will’s head, but Will “dived forward toward Alda, rolling in a somersault that took him under the sack, then letting his legs sweep around, scything Alda’s legs from under him so that the bigger boy went sprawling. . . Jerome brought his cane around in a ringing crack across the back of his shoulders. With a cry of pain and shock, Will staggered forward, as Bryn now brought his cane around and hit him across the side. . . Instantly, the three Battleschool apprentices crowded forward, ringing him, trapping him between them, the heavy canes raised to continue the beating.” Horace appears to help Will.
- Halt sees the boys fighting and stops the fight. However, one of the bullies, Alda, is defiant and disrespectful to Halt. Alda “felt a searing pain as Halt stamped backward with the edge of his boot, catching the apprentice’s foot between the arch and ankle and driving into it. As Alda doubled over to clasp his injured foot, the Ranger pivoted on his left heel and his right elbow slammed upward into Alda’s nose, jerking him upright again and sending him sprawling back, eyes streaming with the pain. . . Halt’s larger knife, razor edged and needle pointed, was just under his chin, pressing lightly into the soft flesh of this throat. . . The knife pricked a little harder against his throat and he felt a warm trickle of blood sliding down under his collar.”
- After Halt takes care of Alda, he makes the other two bullies face Horace, individually. “Then, as he [Horace] blocked Bryn’s fourth stroke, he flicked his wooden blade down the length of the other boy’s cane in the instant before the two weapons disengaged. There was no crosspiece to protect Bryn’s hand form the movement and the hardwood drill sword slammed painfully into his finger. With a cry of agony, he dropped the heavy stick, leaping back and wringing his injured hand painful under his arm.” When Bryn tries to stop fighting, Hale says “If he’s going to be a baby, I suppose you’ll just have to paddle him.” Horace likes the idea and, “then he proceeded to whack the older boy’s backside with the flat of the drill sword, over and over again, following him around the clearing as Bryn tried to pull away from the remorseless punishment.”
- Next, Horace faces Jerome. “Jerome was driven back by a whirlwind of forehands, backhands, side and overhead cuts. He managed to block some of the stokes, but the blistering speed of Horace’s attack defeated him. Blows rained on his shins, elbows, and shoulders almost at will.” When Jerome drops to the ground, and covers his head, “his backside was raised invitingly in the air. . .” Will kicks him in the butt.
- Halt then throws the cane to the injured bully, Alda. During the fight, Alda drops his weapon and “stood defenseless before Horace.” Horace then hits Alda in the jaw. “Will’s eyes widened slightly as Alda came off his feet and hurtled backward, to come crashing down in the cold snow beside his two friends.” The bullies are exiled from the fief. The bullying and fighting scenes are described over 10 pages.
- A group of men which includes Will, travel to find Halt and the Kalkara. When they see the creature, it has a “cluster of arrows that protruded from its chest. There must have been eight of them, all placed within a hand’s breath from each other.” The injured Kalkara went after the men. “The sharp iron penetrated, smashing through the matted hair. The force of the charge drove the Kalkara from its feet and hurled it backward, into the flames of the fire behind it. . . Then there was a blinding flash, and a pillar of red flame that reached ten meters into the night sky. And quite simply, the Kalkara disappeared.”
- Halt was injured and his “leg, numb where the Kalkara had clawed him, was beginning to throb painfully and he could feel the blood seeping past the rough bandage he had thrown around it. . . He was wounded and unarmed. His bow was gone, smashed in that first terrifying charge when he had fired arrow after arrow into the first of the two monsters.”
- Halt comes out of his hiding place to warn the men about the Kalkara. Halt “brought his knife hand up, back and forward in one smooth, instinctive memory throw, seeing the target moving in his mind’s eye, mentally aligning the throw and the spin of the knife. . . It took the Kalkara in its right eye and the beast screamed in pain and fury as it stopped to clutch at the sudden lance of agony that began in its eye and seared all the way to the pain sensors of its brain.” As Halt ran towards the men, “screaming a blood curling challenge, it leap after him. . . The massive arm swung, catching Halt a glancing blow and sending him rolling forward, unconscious.” The baron steps between the beast and Halt, but the monster “slammed its talons into Arald’s exposed back before he could recover from the stroke. . . Arald grunted in pain as surprise as the force of the blow drove him to his knees. . . blood streaming from half a dozen deep slashes in his back.”
- Will dips an arrow in a flammable substance, sets it on fire, then shoots the Kalkara. “The monster beat at the flames on its chest with its paws but that served only to spread the fires to its arms. There was a sudden rush of red flame and in seconds the Kalkara was engulfed, burring from head to toe, rushing blindly in circles in a vain attempt to escape. . . Then the screaming stopped and the creature was dead.” The fight with the Kalkara is described over 10 pages.
- Halt describes the battle that Will’s father fought in. Will’s father “killed one [creature] with the spear, then another smashed the head of the spear, leaving Daniel with only a spear shaft. So he used it like a quarterstaff and knocked down the others—left, right! Just like that!”
Drugs and Alcohol
- While cooking, “a generous dash of red wine” was added to the vegetables.
- While talking to Sir Rodney, “Karel reached across and poured himself another tankard from the jug of beer that was on the table between them. . . He finished the last of his beer in two quick drafts. . .”
- Three boys continuously bully Horace and call him “baby.”
- Damn is used eight times. Halt says that Will is “a damn good shot already.” However, most of the time damn is used to describe the Kalkara as the “damn thing.”
- When a boy compliments Jenny, she tells him, “You are a complete idiot.”
- When Will shows up at the castle with an urgent message, the men-at-arms, stop him from entering. When Sir Rodney sees this, he yells, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you idiot! Don’t you recognize a King’s Ranger when you see one?”
- When he hears a Kalkara’s “hellish” scream, the baron exclaims, “Good God, what is that?”
- When the Kalkara bursts into flame, someone asks, “What the devil was that?”
- A group of Kalkara are on the hunt. Halt describes them. “Think about a creature somewhere between an ape and a bear, that walks upright, and you’ll have an idea of what a Kalkara looks like.” The creature has red eyes and “if you look into its eyes, you are frozen helpless—the way a snake freezes a bird with its gaze before it kills it.”
- When trade masters were choosing new apprentices, Will prayed “that one of them would relent and accept him.”