King Duncan and Princess Cassandra are trapped in the south tower of Castle Araluen and under near-constant attack from the Red Fox Clan. Sir Horace and Ranger Commandant Gilan are holed up in an old hill fort, surrounded by the enemy. And Ranger’s apprentice, Maddie, is the only one who can save them all.
With the help of Hal, Thorn, and the rest of the Heron brotherband, Maddie will have to break her father and his men out of the hill fort, but will they reach Castle Araluen in time?
As the third installment of the Royal Ranger Series, Duel at Araluen continues the story of the Red Fox Clan who plan to kill King Duncan, Princess Cassandra, and Maddie. Unlike the previous two books in the series, Duel at Araluen describes many skirmishes between the rebels and the Araluens. While the book has less adventure, there is non-stop action as three groups—the Scandians, Horace and his soldiers, and Cassandra and her loyal army—prepare to defeat the Red Fox Clan.
While the book revolves around war, there is never senseless killing. Even though the Red Fox Clan planned to kill Horace and his men, when the rebels are defeated, Horace doesn’t execute the traitors. Instead, Horace orders his men to “leave the tents there for them so they won’t die of exposure. . . We’ll leave them what medical supplies and bandages we can spare and they can take care of one another.” Like the previous books, many people die, but all of the killings are in self-defense.
Duel at Araluen highlights the importance of loyalty, friendship, and bravery. For example, Jesper, one of the Scandians, makes several mean comments to one of his shipmates. Afterwards, Jesper claimed he was just joking. Hal scolds Jasper, saying, “A joke is when everyone can have a good laugh together. But when you do something that’s spiteful and hurtful and causes misery to someone else, that’s not a joke. That’s cruelty.”
Duel at Araluen uses the same format of all The Ranger’s Apprentice books. Even though the format is familiar, readers will be happy to see returning characters such as the Scandians from the Brotherband Series. Seeing the world from Maddie’s point of view gives the setting a fresh outlook. Plus, both Cassandra and Maddie have strong roles that involve leadership, planning, and fighting. Instead of being portrayed as stereotypical damsels in distress, Cassandra and Maddie are well-developed, capable characters who have many admirable traits. Readers who want to explore books with a strong female character and plenty of action should also add the League of Archers Series by Eva Howard to their reading list.
- After the Red Fox Clan took over the castle, the King, Cassandra and a group of loyal soldiers lock themselves in a tower. The Red Fox Clan started throwing projectiles at the tower. In response, Cassandra’s archers shoot arrows at the invading army. “Two of the first three shots found their targets. One man fell away from the windlass, an arrow in his upper body. Another. . . went down with a shaft in his thigh.”
- The Red Fox Clan builds a trebuchet and uses it to throw rocks at the castle tower. Cassandra’s archers shoot fire arrows at the trebuchet and the invading army. “Two men went down. One of them stayed down. The other one hauled himself to his feet. . . an arrow through his lower leg. . . All the while, the tree archers peppered the trebuchet with arrows, but to no real effect. The only reward for their efforts was a sole figure lying unmoving on the flagstones.”
- The Red Fox Clan begins throwing fire bladders at the tower. “Cassandra started in fear as the bladder struck the tower. . . Almost instantly, there was a roar of flame as the oil and pitch ignited, and a flood of fire erupted over the balcony, some of it clinging to the walls, while the rest dripped down and spread tendrils of flame over the floor.” No one is injured by the fire bladders.
- The Red Fox Clan plan to swarm the fort that Horace, Gilan, and their army are hiding. “The light flared up, revealing a mass of some twenty men on the walkway. Instantly, the archers on the east and west walls drew, aimed and shot. A storm of arrows slammed into the attackers as they bunched together. . . more arrows slammed into them as they hesitated.”
- During the attack, the rebels use ladders to scale the fort’s walls. “Their leader ran to be the first down one of the ladders. But, five spaces short of it, he was struck by an arrow and hurled back against the rough timbers of the palisade.”
- One of the rebels lunges at Gilan with a sword. “Gilan’s sword, gleaming blood-red in the smoky firelight, struck like a viper, driving the man’s upper body, piercing the chain metal there. The swordsman gasped and stepped back. . . [Gilan] swung in a diagonal overhead cut at the man on his left. The stroke went home and the man fell to his knees, crying out in pain and shock. Then he toppled sideways.” The battle is described over nine pages.
- After the battle, a man gives a casualty report. The Araluen’s lost two men and three others were injured. The rebels lost at least a dozen men and eight are wounded and cannot flee.
- Along with the Scandians, the Araluens attack the rebel army. The Araluens use their lances to try to break up the enemy’s shield wall. “Some of the lances penetrated, forcing their way between the shields, hitting bodies, legs, and arms.” The battle is described over eight pages.
- During the battle, one of the rebels “reared up in agony, clutching vainly at an arrow that had magically appeared between his shoulder blades.”
- One of the leaders of the rebel army, Trask, steals his own soldier’s horse and tries to flee. But Maddie sees Trask and uses her sling as a weapon. Trask “felt a thundering impact on his helmet, right in the center of his forehead. . . Vaguely, he felt himself topple backward from the saddle and crash onto the soft grass. Then everything went black.”
- The rebels set a door on fire, trying to chase Cassandra and her army to flee. One of Cassandra’s sergeants goes around the wall and a crossbowman “raised his weapon and shot. . . Then the crossbow bolt hit him and he reared back, falling dead at Cassandra’s feet.”
- The book ends with a multi-chapter battle between the Araluens and the Red Fox Clan, where many people die. During the battle, one of Cassandra’s archers is stabbed and “with a startled cry of pain, the archer fell back on the steps, his spear clattering on the stonework as he dropped it.” Many men are killed in a similar manner.
- During the attack, one of the rebels “felt a chill of fear clutch his heart as he realized he was seriously outmatched. . . In total panic, he turned to run, but Hal leaped forward and, reversing his sword, brought the heavy hilt down on the back of the man’s head, sending him sprawling unconscious on the boards of the walkway.”
- Cassandra and the rebel leader, Dimon, fight. Cassandra injures him. “Blood dripped slowly from Dimon’s left arm, but not in sufficient quantities to weaken him.” At one point, Cassandra “twisted desperately to the right. The blade scored across her ribs, opening a long, shallow slash in her side. Blood welled out instantly, staining her jerkin.” Cassandra kills Dimon. The sword fight is described over five pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- One of Cassandra’s sergeants was “nursing a mug of ale—a small mug, in view of their limited supply.”
- Damn is used three times. For example, Dimon says, “I should have thought of this damned tower, should have remembered how impregnable it can be.”
- Maddie’s horse says, “By Blarney’s perpetual beard, when you sleep, you really sleep, don’t you?”
- Maddie calls her horse a know-all and a blowhard.
- Twice a Scandian uses “Orlog’s ears” as an exclamation.
- The king calls the rebel’s leader scum.
- Maddie’s horse makes a comment about Blarney, “a minor Hibernian deity. . .His beard grew constantly down to his feet, no matter how often he cut or shaved it.”