The Kings of Clonmel, the eighth book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, begins a new story arc that occurs after the events of book six, The Siege of Macindaw. (Book seven, Erak’s Ransom, went back in time a bit.) For the best experience, you’ll want to read all the previous books before beginning this one. Book nine, Halt’s Peril, is a direct sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.
As the story begins, Will, now a full-fledged Ranger, is at the annual Rangers meeting, overseeing the testing of other apprentices. During this process he is amazed to discover that some of his past exploits, such as the siege of Castle Macindaw, are being used in testing exercises. Halt is not at the meeting because he’s investigating a new religious cult that has popped up. The leader is a ruthless man named Tennyson who is tricking villagers and stealing from them. When Will and Horace are sent to help, they discover that Tennyson has plans to team up with the King of Clonmel, an unpopular ruler who has a good reason to want to see Halt dead. They need to stop Tennyson and the King in order to protect their own country from these two tyrants.
As usual for this series, the best part of The Kings of Clonmel is simply the interaction between Flanagan’s heroes. It’s fun to be with Will, Halt and Horace, no matter what’s going on with the plot. Their humorous repartee is genuinely entertaining and goes a long way toward making these stories pleasurable. There is plenty of that in The Kings of Clonmel. Another positive aspect is that we learn a lot about Halt in this story. Since he’s my favorite character, that’s a good thing.
However, I think the flaws in the series are magnified in this installment. Once again we see the deficits in world-building as new countries are suddenly introduced. The cult leader brings in a “new” religion with a “new” god which makes us wonder: what are the religious beliefs of these people? We’ve never been told. Once again we endure a few action scenes that are much too long. For example, it takes Will far too many pages to sneak into an enemy camp. We get nearly a (literally) step by step description of his progression.
Another issue, and this is one I’ve let slide for a while now, is that Will, Halt and Horace (and the rest of the gang when they’re on stage) always win. Will’s expertise with the bow and Horace’s skill with the sword have always been kind of unbelievable, but their exploits get more and more amazing and it’s getting to the point where they seem like superheroes. I’d like to see Will and his friends struggle just a bit more to be successful, perhaps enduring a few personal failures along the way. For example, in the last book Will got lost in the desert because his compass went awry due to the presence of an iron mountain. Couldn’t we have Will get lost because he misread the compass or accidentally crushed it? I realize that this is a children’s fantasy and I suppose we don’t want Horace to get his head chopped off, but wouldn’t it be meaningful to watch one of our heroes fail and have to struggle with that for a while? I think it would make this series stronger.
It’s likely that Flanagan’s target audience won’t notice the issues I’ve raised, and that’s fine. The RANGER’S APPRENTICE books aren’t perfect, but they’re fun. I enjoy listening to the audio version narrated by John Keating.