Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Lowdown: An orphan teenager living in a swords & sorcery universe reluctantly embarks on a ranger’s career.
If you read my reviews long enough you would know I have something against cheap fantasy books. Not that I don’t like them; it’s rather the opposite, I feel as if I spent too much of my precious youth reading such books instead of reading worthier stuff. What reason, then, did I have to turn into The Ruins of Gorlan, the first of many (10!) young adult titles in a series called The Ranger’s Apprentice? Well, I can invoke several good reasons:
  1. I had severe tooth pain and was looking for relief through easy reading.
  2. Author John Flanagan is Australian, and everyone knows that Aussies do it better than the rest. It’s in our blood.
  3. Ranger’s Apprentice was much talked about at the recent AussieCon 4 science fiction convention. Having heard so much about it, mostly from the mouth of the book’s editor, my curiosity was aroused.
For a swords & sorcery tale of fantasy The Ruins of Gorlan sure has some peculiarities about it, most notably its use of kilometres as a unit for measuring distance rather than miles. Over the years I’ve grown so used to sword bearing heroes talking distance in defunct empirical units that suddenly facing proper measurements felt strange, enforcing my conviction that Aussies do it better. However, the most peculiar thing about The Ruins of Gorlan is that for a tale of swords & sorcery it doesn’t feature much in the way of swords & sorcery. Sure, evil monsters are there to be slayed, but it takes backstage to the main event: the tale of a boy’s coming of age, and in particular the tale of the effect bullying has on a company of teenage friends.
As it starts, we are quickly introduced to a young orphan boy, Will, who grew to the age of 15 at a special orphanage with four other peers. Will is facing an important date in his life, a date where his future career as an adult will be determined: he wants to be a warrior and he dreads being a farmer, all the while knowing he doesn't have the physics to make a warrior. Eventually, though, he is elected to become an apprentice ranger, an occupation about which he doesn’t know much. He quickly learns at the hand of his new master, Halt, and through lots of hard work.
In the mean time, one of Will’s colleague at the orphanage, a big and strong guy called Horace with whom he used to argue a lot, is off to a warrior’s career – the career Will dreamt about. Yet things go sorely wrong for Horace as he is constantly bullied at the warrior’s school, with the resulting friction affecting everyone.
Thus we are set to a constantly exciting and quite thrilling tale of friendship, adventure, and - most importantly – coming of age. I was proven right: The Ruins of Gorlan is an excellent toothache choice of a book because it is easy to read, but it works even better because it’s so thrilling it takes your mind off the pain. It all brilliantly fits into the young adult framework, because things are not only short and simple but also very relevant to every young adult’s life: the terror before a crucial exam, tensions about what future lies ahead for you as compared to your seemingly more successful friends, and bullying to name just three.
The only rub is in the obvious fact this book does not stand on its own and requires one to read its sequel[s] if one is to come to peace with the characters. While The Ruins of Gorlan does have an ending, this ending is not conclusive enough: the chief baddie is still roaming about and big time war is looming. On its own having a sequel may not be too bad, but there is a catch: looking for the sequel at Amazon I noticed the paper version sells for $8 while the Kindle version sells for $10. That didn’t make sense so I tried it again, switching my country settings from Australia to the USA: this time around the Kindle version’s price was $7. I already talked about the way Australian companies are taking Aussies for a ride by considering them already bent down and ready to be shafted with the blunt end of the stick up their ass here, but this particular example really infuriates me. I really hope the Aussie publisher gets a sincere and mighty blow at piracy’s hand the way the music industry had, but on the other hand I will then lament the demise of an industry that is important to me. In the mean time, I will do the legal thing and purchase the next Ranger’s Apprentice as an American using the services of a VPN provider (as discussed here).
Overall: Excellent easy reading and excellent reading for all youth. 4 out of 5 stars. Shame about the way the Aussie publisher is treating the series' readers, though.


Uri said...

if it's any consolation, the later books are $10 in the US as well.
BTW, I thought it was fine as a standalone book. If you didn’t get enough resolution in this one, you’d feel much worse about most of the rest of the series.

Moshe Reuveni said...

They must have changed the prices, because I got #2 and #3 for $7 each.
As for the books standing alone: it didn't matter that much because the book didn't leave you at a cliffhanger. I did think it was important to stress that the book establishes itself as a part of a series where you would never feel complete without reading the ten plus sequels. It's not often that a book asks for such a commitment.

Uri said...

I was talking about book 7.