“People will think what they want to,” he said quietly. “Never take too much notice of it.”– Halt
When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, you often hear similar responses, such as a policeman, a fireman, and, here in Canada especially, a hockey player. These children choose careers that are often idealized, jobs that are highly sought after, but very challenging. And over time, many of these children learn that the idealized careers of their childhood are not the ones they are best suited for. Will, the main character of John Flanagan’s first Ranger’s Apprentice novel, has a similar view of his impending career. He wishes to become a member of Battle school, to be trained as a warrior, but he is slight of stature and would struggle to survive the hardships of the school. However, Will is quick and agile, which allows him to move without being seen and climb to heights where no one seems to look. Although he longs to be a knight, he is not chosen to enter Battle school, but he does receive a warrior’s training as a Ranger’s apprentice, where he learns the art of stealth.
Will struggles with the realization that becoming a Ranger is a better fit for him. He had always seen himself as a warrior, and his constant battles with his fellow orphan and bully, Horace, had hardened his resolve to become one. But, as he develops under the tutelage of Halt, a Ranger with immense skill, he comes to understand why it is his destiny to become a Ranger, and why his skill set fits so perfectly in that role. His journey to that point, including the facing down of a charging wild boar, helped Will realize who he was and gave him the confidence to help Halt when they needed to stop a pair of monstrous beasts, known as the Kalkara, from assassinating members of the royal court.
Outside of Will’s bildungsroman development story, the issue of bullying is a strong component to the story, one that is great for teens to read about, even if they hear about it a lot in school. The interesting aspect to this story is that Horace, the bully for Will during his childhood, becomes the target of bullying once he enters Battle school. It is heartbreaking to witness the tortures that Horace must endure and the brokenness he feels inside from being rejected by his peers, but it is also so beautiful to see the redemption he receives when he and Will reconcile. Flanagan weaves an interesting story that allows for the reader to feel the pain of the former bully and see his emotional change over time.
This story is fairly accessible and I would easily offer it to grade 7 students and up. I have used it in my class this year with my grade 8s and have received fairly good feedback. In my personal opinion, I was not as engaged by the story as I have been by others recently, but I have also been told by some of my students that the series gets more engaging as the books move along. Thematically, I would pair it with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as they all deal with bullying and the need for the learning of a new career or skill. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy or medieval settings.