As usual, since The Battle for Skandia is book four in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, you should expect spoilers for the previous books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, and The Icebound Land.
At the end of The Icebound Land, we left Will and Princess Cassandra hiding out in a cabin in the woods during winter in Skandia after they escaped from slavery. Cassandra has been nursing Will back to health for weeks. Now things are starting to thaw and they must leave before hunters arrive. Right away, though, Cassandra is captured by some Temujai warriors. (We haven’t heard of these folks before which, in my mind, may indicate that Flanagan is doing his world-building as he goes… not that his young target audience is really going to care about that.) When Will, who is still not well, attempts to rescue Cassandra, he bungles the attempt. Fortunately, that’s the moment when Halt and Horace finally catch up! (This is all in the publisher’s book description, so I don’t consider it a spoiler.)
After some investigation, our heroes discover that the Temujai are planning to invade Skandia and, after they get control of the Skandian ships, they will cross the sea and attack Araluen! Halt is still banished from Araluen, so they decide to stay in Skandia and help the barbarians defeat the Temujai because, as they see it, “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” (at least temporarily). Preparations for battle begin and everyone has a role to play.
I had to suspend disbelief a little more than usual for The Battle for Skandia, but I still found it entertaining and enjoyed spending time with all of its characters. Will, Horace, Halt and Cassandra are great heroes and so is Erak, the Skandian who we can’t help but love. It’s a little hard to believe that the Skandians could be such dumb oafs that they’ve never considered any battle strategy other than running straight at their enemy’s front line, but this premise is necessary for the plot to work. There are, as usual, many places where Flanagan over-explains character motives and there is some head-hopping. Some of the battles go on too long, but they’re clearly explained, easily visualized, and exciting.
The humor continues to be a highlight for me. The scenes where Halt has to take Erak, the big burly Viking, tracking through the forest is amusing. Also funny is young Horace’s rigid and naive dedication to the rules of chivalry and his astonishment that other men who call themselves knights don’t always follow those rules. This gets even more amusing when he observes Halt, who is much more realistic in his views on chivalry, break these rules for pragmatic reasons. When Halt forges a document to get them across a hostile border, Horace is appalled. Here they are discussing it:
Halt: So how would you suggest that we deal with the problem? How would you get us past the border?
Horace: We could fight our way in.
Halt: So, it’s immoral to bluff our way past with an official document —
Horace: A false document. With a forged seal at the bottom.
Halt: All right, a forged document if you like. That’s reprehensible. But it would be perfectly all right for us to go through the border post hacking and shooting down everyone in sight. Is that the way you see it?
At the end of The Battle for Skandia, things have changed for our heroes and I expect that most readers will be eager to find out what happens next. I have already started the next book, The Sorcerer in the North, and was surprised to find that it begins a few years after the events of this book. Flanagan is moving this story right along.
I am still enjoying the audio version of RANGER’S APPRENTICE. This one is read by John Keating and is 9.5 hours long.