What does it mean to earn the Silver Oakleaf? So few men have done so. For Will, a mere boy and apprentice to the most difficult Ranger to please, that symbol of honor has long seemed out of reach. If he is to ever earn it, he must prove himself in ways he never imagined.
Now, in the wake of Araluens’ uneasy truce with the raiding Skandians, there comes word that the Skandian leader, Erak, has been captured by a desert tribe. The Rangers, along with a small party of warriors, are sent to free him, but the desert is like nothing these warriors have seen before. Strangers in a strange land, they are brutalized by sandstorms, tricked by one tribe that plays by its own rules, and surprisingly befriended by another. Like a mirage, nothing is as it seems. Yet one thing is constant: the bravery of the Rangers.
Erak’s Ransom goes back in time, before the fifth and sixth installments of the series. When Erak is taken captive, the Skandians ask for the Araluens’ help. For the first time ever, Halt, Horace, Will, and Evelyn travel together. The interplay between the characters is interesting. Readers will appreciate seeing how people from different cultures can respectfully work together without having to hide their beliefs.
Like the previous books in the series, the story ends with an epic battle. However, one of the best aspects of Erak’s Ransom is the political negotiating, the clashing of beliefs, and the honor of desert tribes. Even though the story’s plot is complicated and there is a huge cast of characters, readers familiar with the characters will not have difficulty understanding the plot. The Araluens, Skandians, and two desert tribes come together to defeat an evil raiding party. Each group has a different strength, and all contribute to freeing Erak and defeating evil.
Erak’s Ransom is another fast-paced story that readers will not want to put down. Although male friendship is highlighted, Evelyn’s strong personality also comes to the forefront and shows how women can be capable leaders. Erak’s Ransom will leave readers wishing they could sit around the campfire and have a conversation with the Araluens and the Skandians because at this point in the series, they seem like trusted friends.
- At Halt’s wedding, “there had been the inevitable tearful flouncing and shrill recriminations when the girlfriend of one of the younger warriors from Sir Rodney’s Battleschool had caught her boyfriend kissing another girl in a dark corridor.”
- A group of men finds a caravan that was slaughtered. “Horses, mules, camels and men were scattered about the desert, lifeless shapes surrounded by darkening patches of dried blood that had soaked into the sand… The men and animals had been killed, and then hacked in a senseless frenzy. There was barely a body with just a single killing wound.”
- Will shoots an arrow near Umar’s grandson. Angry, Umar’s “fist struck Will backhanded across the jaw. He staggered and fell, the bow dropping from his hands… Will, stunned by the blow, tried to regain his feet but a savage kick from Umar winded him and sent him sprawling again.” Umar stops when his wife yells at him.
- While the Araluens, Skandians, and Arridis are traveling together, they are attacked. The group makes a shield wall. Gilan and Halt use their bows. “Already, half a dozen riderless horses were running wildly with the group charging from the front, their riders lying in crumpled heaps in the sand behind them… The battle became a heaving, shoving, hand-to-hand melee, with curved swords rising and falling, hacking and stabbing along the line. Men cried out in pain on both sides as they went down, then cried out again as comrades and foes trod them down in their efforts to reach the enemy.” Both sides lose men. The attack is described over four pages.
- The Araluens, Skandians, and Arridis surrender. The leader of the other army imprisons those who will be valuable to sell as slaves. Everyone else is left without shoes and water. The leader says, “You’re brave enough now, boy, but wait ‘til your tongue is dry and swollen so large that it fills our throat so that you can hardly breathe. Wait ‘til your feet are torn and blistered by the heat and the rocks. Your eyes will be blinded by the glare of the sun and you’ll wish your leader had allowed me to kill you here, and now.”
- The captives are bound, and “The guards mounted and herded their captives on foot toward the camp… Urged on by spear butts and curses, they stumbled on the uneven ground.” When the captives arrive at the camp, they see Erak. “…He was seated on the ground, chained between two noisy, complaining camels. His face was bruised and his hair matted with dried blood. One eye was almost closed and there were whip scores on his arms and back.”
- Tualaghi forces the captives to walk for three days. “If anyone falls—and inevitably they did, since they were kept off balance by having their hands tied together in front of them—he was immediately surrounded by riders jabbing with lance points or striking down at them with the butts of their spears.” The men are bruised and sore by the time they arrive at their destination.
- Halt upsets the Tualaghi leader. Two men grab Halt, “forcing him forward and down until he was on his knees in front of Yusal. The Tualaghi Aseish then rained closed-fist blows on Halt’s face, left and right, striking again and again until the Ranger’s face was cut and bleeding and his head lolled to one side… he crumbled to the sand, facedown, and semiconscious.”
- When a woman looks at Yusal, he “had her savagely whipped.”
- When the prisoners are taken to be executed, “there were those who chose to jeer at the prisoners and throw stones, clumps of earth or garbage at them.”
- Will and Aloom try to find a vantage point so they can see the captives. Three of the enemies appear and “crowded upon him (Aloom), swords flashing, rising and falling as they attacked.” In order to help, Will jumps and “landed feet first on the shoulders of the Tualaghi leader. The man gave a cry of shock and pain and crumpled beneath the force of Will’s body. Will heard the snap of bones breaking somewhere, then a sickening thud as the bandit’s head slammed into the hard, rocky ground.”
- During the fight with Will and Aloom, Will uses his saxe knife, and “the Tualaghi gave a short cry, half surprise, half pain, and sank back against the wall, his sword dropping from his hand…” The three Tualaghi are killed, and Aloom is severely injured and eventually dies from his wounds.
- Will watches as Aloom “coughed and scarlet blood stained the front of his robe.” Will must leave Aloom in order to help the captives.
- Will shoots the executioner. “Only then did those on the platform see what had been visible to the crowd in the square: the gray shafted arrow buried deep in the executioner’s chest.”
- Will shoots an arrow at Yusal. The arrow “took him in the muscle of his upper left arm… He screamed in pain and fury…” Yusal flees, but “there were still armed Tualaghi all over the platform, threatening his friends.” Will shot arrows until “the guards began dropping with shrieks of agony and terror.”
- A Tualaghi strikes his sword at Horace, and “a thin red line formed immediately, then blurred as blood began to well out of the cut… Horace simply brought the massive brass-pommeled hilt back in a short, savage stroke, thudding it into the man’s head.”
- Evelyn uses her sling to fling a stone at Yusal. “A solid smacking sound could be heard clearly around the square. Then Yusal’s hands dropped and revealed a mask of blood covering his eyes and upper face, flowing down to soak into his blue veil… He fell full length to the hard ground below.” Evelyn uses her sling to drop another man. The man “doubled over, clutching his face and moaning in pain.”
- Toshak, a Skandian traitor, tries to run from the fight. Erak “launched himself at Toshak, the sword swinging down in a blow that would have split the traitor down to the waist. There was a massive ringing clang as Toshak caught the blow on top of his double-bladed ax head… With a mighty roar, Erak used his left arm to thrust himself up from the cobbles while he drove the sword deep into Toshak’s unprotected body.” Toshak dies. The battle is described over three chapters.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Wine and barrels of ale are served at Halt’s wedding.
- When a couple of Skandians meet a desert people, one of them replies, “Don’t know how you all keep going without a good drink of ale… Settles the mind in the evenings, ale does.”
- A dying man is given “a few drops of clear liquid” to relieve his pain.
- At a celebration, the Skandians are given “brandy made from fermented dates and peaches.”
- The exclamation “Gorlog’s beard” is used occasionally. “Gorlog was a lesser Scandian deity who had a long beard, curved horns and fanglike teeth.”
- “God’s above,” “good God,” and “my God” are used as exclamations a few times.
- Several times someone is called an idiot. For example, Halt wonders why he needs to invite “the Iberian ambassador and his two idiot daughters to my wedding.”
- Evelyn “frightened the devil out of” a guard.
- A diplomat thanks the lord for Evelyn’s character and courage.
- A group of raiders are referred to as “the Forgotten of God.”
- When Will begins a journey, he says, “I’ll see you in a few days.” The person replies, “I hope the god of journeys wills it so.”
- When Will appeared, Halt “whispered a prayer of thanks.” Later, Halt puts his bound arm on the execution block and “prayed that his friend had got the message.”
- The desert people “believed that djinns and devils and spirits all lived in these ancient mountains.”
- The Skandians believe “that if they were to die in battle without a weapon in their hand, their soul would wander for all eternity.”
- After Evelyn negotiates successfully, Halt says, “Lord forgive me, I’ve created a monster.”