The Ruins of Gorlan is a splendid introduction to fantasy, especially for readers who like fast-moving stories but who may not be ready for the canonical masters of the genre. There aren’t any surprises for experienced readers, except to see how deftly and economically Flanagan moves his story and characters along. He does both, and with enough heart that the youngest reader in the household here — who may be a bit on the young side of the target audience according to the calendar, but was smack in the middle of it as things turned out — devoured all 12 books in the series in just a couple of months.
The setting is of course a warmed-over England that wears its feudalism very lightly, or at wears it pleasantly enough that noble lords provide for orphans, and the worst that most characters have to worry about are the other young people they don’t get along with, and whether Choosing Day — when masters select new apprentices — will bring the assignment they hope for. At least those are their greatest worries until signs appear that an evil baron, banished to a corner of the isle (in one of the few nods toward grown-up humor, the southeast is the home to all things malevolent), may be returning to the kingdom with revenge on his mind.
The series follows Will, an orphan, who is taken in to be an apprentice to the Rangers, the elite corps who serve as the King’s eyes, ears, and champions. In the course of the first book, he begins to learn what it is to be a Ranger. As he grows, he finds both unexpected courage and humility, and he finds that the first choices he makes as a young adult have real consequences, but also that people he had thought were enemies might have more to them than meets the eye.
It’s fun, it’s quick, and there’s plenty more where The Ruins of Gorlan came from. Flanagan started writing the stories of Araluen to entertain his son Michael, who was not a strong reader at the time. The world pulls in younger readers, and keeps them happily there. What more could one ask for?