The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan
The Royal Ranger is the twelfth and final book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for younger readers. Originally book ten, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, was supposed to be the last book — it wrapped up everyone’s stories nicely — but Flanagan decided to give us one more novel that takes place a few years later. I’m glad he did, since I thought The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a weak installment.
I suspect that some fans of the series won’t appreciate some of what Flanagan did in The Royal Ranger, put personally, I loved it. Here’s what some fans won’t like: Flanagan gave us an “everyone lives happily ever after” ending with The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, but he completely demolishes it, at least for Will, in The Royal Ranger. Very soon after the book opens, we learn that Will has suffered a devastating tragedy. Not only has it wrecked his personal life, but it has changed his personality. Instead of the sweet and caring young man we’ve grown to love, Will is now bitter and vengeful.
Meanwhile, his friends Horace and Princes Cassandra are dealing with a rebellious daughter named Maddie. She has no interest in pursuing proper princess pastimes (sorry, I just couldn’t resist the alliteration) and enjoys using a slingshot and sneaking out at night to go hunting.
The solution to these two problems, which is proposed by Halt, will be obvious to any reader (just look at the title of the book). But that’s okay. I knew what was going to happen, but I was excited for it anyway: Maddie is assigned to be Will’s apprentice. Finally! All this time I’ve wondered why Flanagan didn’t give us any female Ranger’s apprentices — in fact, I was more than a little annoyed about that — so I was thrilled that he chose to end the series this way.
As for the plot of The Royal Ranger, there is much that we’ve already seen before — Maddie learns to track, shoot, walk quietly, be observant, ride a Ranger horse, and do other Ranger things. It’s repetitive at times, but I suspect that most readers won’t mind, especially when they see Will coming out of his funk. Finally Maddie is ready to accompany Will on his first mission since the tragedy. Together they must investigate the murder of another Ranger, which leads them to discover a string of missing children.
The plot was fairly exciting. There were times when I wondered why Will and Maddie made certain choices. For example, they have to visit several villages and try to get information out of the tight-lipped folks who live there. In the past, Will did this very successfully by pretending to be a traveling musician. He sat in taverns and played a lute while all the townspeople naturally opened up to him. Why not use this same tactic here? Instead, he pretends to be a laborer looking for work and ends up having to actually DO tiring manual labor while Maddie goes out and tries to get information out of kids. Even though we’ve seen it before, the musician trick would have worked a lot better. But, whatever. I didn’t really care that much, and I doubt that many of Flanagan’s readers will. They probably also won’t care that the bad guy in The Royal Ranger is a ludicrous Bond villain, especially when he comes to a satisfyingly ironic end. Throughout the story, the theme of friendship and loyalty is explored. There are also little life lessons: it pays to be kind, don’t drink alcohol, be prepared, and any plan can go wrong.
All in all, The Royal Ranger was a satisfying ending to RANGER’S APPRENTICE. I do hope, though, that we’ll get to see more of Maddie someday.
I’ve enjoyed the audiobooks read by John Keating. He does a wonderful job with these stories.
I’m very glad that the series had a strong ending; this way I won’t feel guilty about recommending it.
Kat, you did a great job of pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of this series.