While I try to read books before buying them, I do buy some series books without reading them and I have to wait until the summer to read them because they are constantly checked out. Flanagan's books certainly are in this category-- I will NEVER forget the February day that boxes arrived near the end of school, were hurried to the library by office helpers who were followed by a raft of study hall students, who all watched eagerly as I opened boxes and pulled things out. I checked out four copies of (I think) Erak's Ransom while they were still COLD.
Good stuff. But as you can see, a bit daunting to have over 1200 pages of fantasy adventure waiting for you. A couple cool days on the porch, though, and they went all too quickly. Sigh. No wonder the students love the books.
Flanagan, John. The Lost Stories (Ranger's Apprentice #11)
4 October 2011, Philomel (422 pages)
Archaeologists in 1896 have uncovered lost manuscripts about the Rangers. While some of these stories tell things that happened before the novels (how Will ended up an orphan), the bulk of the book leads up to Horace and Evanlyn's wedding and has stories about Will trying to write a wedding speech, Alyss going undercover as an old woman to take care of some Roamers, and Jenny waiting for Gilan, but being besieged by evil men-- and doing them in with a roasted leg of lamb! The preface indicates that these are stories readers approached Flanagan about, and he very kindly wrote them.
Strengths: It was nice to hear more about the characters I had come to know and love, and I especially loved how strong Alyss and Jenny were. There was also a great description of a dog flopping down in the sun that I wish I could find again.
Weaknesses: Some bits of this had moments of anachronism, which seemed odd, since the world building is usually so watertight in these stories.
1 November 2011, Philomel (434pages )
Hal is the son of an Araluen slave woman who was freed by her husband Mikkel, who was unfortunately killed in battle. Hal is chosen to be in the Brotherband training group in his town of Hallasholm, where Erak the Oberjarl is headquartered. He has good skills with boats, his friend Stig, and a faithful (is disheveled) retainer in Thorn, who despite his years of debauchery was once the fiercest of the Skandians. When the snotty Tursgud, as skirl, refuses to take Hal into his group, and the other skirl refuses as well, Hal is elected skirl of the boys whom no one else wants. They band together quickly and use their heads, as well as the brawn of Ingvar. They do well in the competitions, but when they are guarding the town's treasure, the Andomal, it is stolen by the pirate Zavac. In order to retain his honor, Hal steals his own ship, the Heron, and takes off with Thorn and his band to find Zavac.
Strengths: I again loved the characters, and there is even more humor in this story than in the Ranger's Apprentice books. Good stuff!
Weaknesses: No girls! I was hoping for a few really good ones.
Flanagan, John. The Invaders (Brotherband Chronicles #2)
1 May 2012, Philomel (429 pages)
After battling a horrible winter storm for several days, Hal brings the Heron into a cove. At first, he is busy with fixing the ship and lets the boys laze around until they start fighting, and Thorn has to remind him that they had better train if they want to defeat Zavac and his pirates. Thorn takes over their training, and the boys have a new respect for him, especially when he teaches the near sighted Ingvar how to cope with his disability. Hal manages to make a weapon for the boat, and they take off to get supplies. They intercept Lydia, who has escaped from Limmat, which has been attacked by... Zavac! She takes the group to the refugees, headed by the pompous Barat, and they all decide to work together. The Wolfwind show up, and the Skandians are not there to drag the brotherband back-- they are there to help vanquish Zavac! There is a great attempt to get the pirate, and the group almost does... but it's a good thing they don't, because now there will be another book! (30 October 2012, Philomel)
Strengths: Just as I was losing hope, Lydia comes along and is a whiz with her darts, helping the brotherband out tremendously, and also turning all the boys into stuttering fools. I loved how the different groups all worked together against a common enemy.
Weaknesses: I have to wait until the next book comes out, and it may be the last (from what I see, this is a trilogy.)