fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Icebound Land by John Flanagan children's epic fantasy audiobook reviewsThe Icebound Land by John Flanagan

I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade / young adult readers. The Icebound Land is the third book and it’s just as charming as the previous books, The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge. You need to read those books before beginning The Icebound Land, so expect spoilers for them in this review.

At the end of The Burning Bridge, Horace defeated Morgarath. (This both surprised and delighted me because Morgarath was a cliché and I was afraid that the series, which contains 12 books so far, was going to be a never-ending battle between the good guys and Morgarath. I’m so glad he’s gone!) But all is not well because Will and Evanlyn (who we know is actually the king’s daughter Cassandra, though Will does not yet know this at the beginning of the story) were kidnapped by Erak, a warlord from Skandia, and they are on his ship crossing the sea. The Skandians are essentially what we know of as Vikings — horned helmets, raiding ships, and all the usual trappings of Vikingness. Erak, who also doesn’t realize he’s got the Araluen’s king’s daughter on his ship, plans to sell the youngsters into slavery. Will hopes he can figure out a way for them to escape before then.

Meanwhile, back in Araluen, Halt wants to go after Will, but the king won’t let him because he needs Halt for another job. King Duncan is content to sit and wait for a ransom demand for Cassandra. But Halt is determined to go and he has to trick Duncan into banishing him before he’s allowed out of the country. Then he and Horace begin searching for Will.

The Icebound Land is just as entertaining as the previous books were. There’s lots of action and adventure, and the boys (Will and Horace) do a lot of travelling and learning about different cultures and leadership styles. The princess gets a chance to really shine in this book, but in an unexpected way. She’s a great heroine.

Flanagan tends to get wordy occasionally, and over-explain things (e.g. tell when he could just show), but this didn’t bother me much because the book is targeted to children (approximately 5th grade and up) and it’s possible that the extra explanation may be helpful. As usual, there are some teaching moments in The Icebound Land, though they don’t feel teachy at all. In this book Flanagan uses his platform to warn about the dangers of drug use. We see a character deal with addiction which includes a major change in personality, a loss of volition for anything but the drug, and a lot of stress for that person’s friends. I think this was well-done and I hope that children who read The Icebound Land will take it to heart.

I also enjoyed the humor in The Icebound Land. I’ve mentioned before that I like Flanagan’s sense of humor, but we see more of it in this novel, as if the author is settling in and getting more comfortable with these characters. The plotline in which Halt is trying to get banished is especially funny. I think that the dry humor is a large part of my enjoyment of this series and I wouldn’t find these books quite so charming without it.

Tears sprung to my eyes at the end of The Icebound Land and I picked up the next book, The Battle for Skandia, immediately. I’m reading these in audio format. John Keating does a wonderful job!


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.