The advantage of living in Australia can sometimes feel like a disadvantage. Sure, we're apparently the envy of a lot of the world financially (if they've heard of us), we have a great environment, some wonderful sports and some of the world's best coffee, yet it always feels like we're last to get any of the good cultural acts. Most of my favourite American bands and films seem to come around after everyone else has had them (and books too). Sure, we get the odd Marvel film early viewing but it's almost like a token gift.
Which is why it's nice when a popular (and favourite series of mine) is actually written by an Australian. I don't mean to boast, but I will since it rarely happens, that I got to read this novel way earlier than most of the world. It's not scheduled till an October 3 release date and yet the publishers got the novel early to my local bookstore where I had a nice pre-order to pick it up for almost 10 dollars cheaper.
Now, to the book itself. It must be noted that the 5 star rating is the result of all the entire novels in the series, though I have no doubt this may be the best among them. It was clearly a novel written with care, passion and insight and this to an extent helped make it a touch above the other novels in the series.
I have a tendency to rate YA and general children's literature books on a different scale or level to other novels. That is not to say I find them inferior as literature. Some of the greatest works of fiction have been primarily children's fiction texts (see Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia for example). But like other types of 'genre fiction' they are different to other works of literature. And when I say literature I mean the literature studied in schools or universities as 'high-brow' works. To that extent I try and judge children's literature as a whole, by the various issues and concerns they deal with.
As an entire series Ranger's Apprentice has been superb children's fiction. It is the type of fiction written and appealing to all ages. Though John Flanagan's style could hardly be called beautiful it is wry and warm in its tone; inviting but never consoling. There is a subtlety about his writing, and though his tales are of other worlds I cannot help but feel the particular Australian vibe which leaks through his words. It is a familiar vibe and one which grounds the book all the more in reality. It is an odd concept that a work of fantasy could be grounded in familiarity but the best fantasy truly takes the normality of the world and exposes the fantastic elements of that normality.
The plot of this novel is hard to talk about without exposing any key spoilers. It follows a much older Will and his new apprentice as they go undercover on a mission, a mission with roots in Will's recent and dark past. It is a plot lined with tragedy and is about the process of recovering from tragedy. It is a moving and fitting end for the series, which in a way comes full circle as the reader by this point has seen Will Treaty move from Apprentice to Ranger to Master Ranger with Apprentice. I will warn readers that there is little of any of the other characters that you may be familiar with in this novel. That said, if you've read this far, why stop now?
There is a sense that the novel could continue on with another book following Will and his apprentice. However, I think it is fitting that John Flanagan end it here. Not only does it allow for the series to come that full circle. But it is a bowing out before the novels begin to recycle plots ad infinitum. There is a noted idea amongst storytellers that it is better to leave the audience wanting more than to outstay your welcome. And I believe John Flanagan has left his readers wanting more, leaving it up to his readers to imagine the future and beyond.