The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan
Well, I thought the RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, which I recently reviewed, was finished, but it’s not. The Tournament at Gorlan begins a prequel series which tells us what happened before we met Will on the day he became a Ranger’s apprentice. We already know some of the backstory — about how Morgarath became a traitor to the King of Araluen, destroyed the reputation of the Rangers, and tried to seize the throne. John Flanagan’s prequel series will fill in the details of those events and let us enjoy the youthful days of some of our favorite older RANGER’S APPRENTICE characters.
In The Tournament at Gorlan, Morgarath has kidnapped the king and is drugging him to keep him compliant. He has also captured Prince Duncan and has ruined the prince’s reputation by hiring a thug to terrorize the kingdom while pretending to be Duncan. Morgarath has managed to get most of the Rangers (who are loyal to the king and prince) discredited and dismissed. Next he plans to get control of the Council of Barons and make himself king.
Morgarath makes one major huge really unbelievably stupid idiotic mistake. He writes down all of his plans, accomplices, hiding places, and motives in a letter — a letter which young Halt and Crowley (the older Rangers from the original series) intercept. The Rangers now know everything they need to know to rescue Duncan and the king and to stop Morgarath’s coup attempt. They plan to rally the dismissed Rangers, free Duncan and the king, and confront Morgarath at the annual Tournament at Gorlan.
The pace of The Tournament at Gorlan is leisurely, especially during the first half. The Rangers spend a lot of time camping, cooking over the fire, eating mutton stews in various inns, wiping their greasy fingers on their clothes, and teasing each other constantly. Fans of the series will know what I mean. The convivial banter between Flanagan’s characters has always been amusing but, at this point, it’s getting a little tiresome.
Also irksome are all the usual explanations and reminders about the Ranger horses (how fast they are, how they don’t tire, how they’ll throw off a rider who doesn’t use the right password, etc.), how much coffee the Rangers drink (and that Halt likes honey in his and thinks that putting milk in coffee is a travesty), how badly they sing, etc. There were several scenes in The Tournament at Gorlan that we’ve seen in previous books, and there were a couple in which Flanagan tells us every movement Halt makes:
He stepped cautiously down onto the first stair, settled himself again and brought his back foot down to match the front one… He took the second stair, one foot, then two. He swayed, leaning against the wall for balance, then stepped down to the third stair…
The repetition and slow pace make the novel feel prolonged and puffy. New readers, or those who really just love the banter and these familiar scenes, may have a very different perception. The Rangers’ camaraderie is appealing; my complaint is just that I’m tired of reading the same material over and over. I was interested, though, to see the first meeting between Halt and Pauline. Another highlight is the titular tournament. Children who are unfamiliar with medieval-style tournaments will probably enjoy, and learn from, those sections of the book.
The Tournament at Gorlan is a fine place for new readers to begin the RANGER’S APPRENTICE series and it would be fine to move right on to the “first” RANGER’S APPRENTICE novel, The Ruins of Gorlan, afterward if you don’t want to wait for the next “Early Years” books before beginning the original series.
I listened to Listening Library’s audio version of in The Tournament at Gorlan. It’s just over 11 hours long and is read by John Keating, who does a great job with this series.
Having the Big Bad write down all of his plans in an easily-stolen letter seems like a silly thing to do, even for a children’s series.