I rented a copy of John Flanagan’s The Outcasts book 1 of the Brotherband Chronicles from the local library on audiobook and listened to it while driving around with the help of a blue tooth connection and an app on my smartphone called Overdrive. If I’ve misspelled any of the names, it is because I have not seen them in print.
While listening to the story, I was intermittently accompanied
by my son who is nearly nine years old. I make mention of this because it
affected how I ended out with four stars for a rating. Jackson loved every
member of the Heron Brotherband! He fancies himself bright like Hal and
probably picked some kids from school who were like the other boys. I was
trying to decide between 3 and 4 stars for this book, so I asked him to rate
it. He offered 4.5 stars. Since indecision amounted to 3.5 stars, I averaged
both our opinions and ended out with a 4 star rating! Jackson told me that he
took away half a star because the story was a bit more “describey” than his
usual fare of Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Now on to me and my wonderful opinions! Just kidding…Unless you were thinking the same thing.
I’ve never heard of Flanagan or Ranger’s Apprentice beyond what the book cover acclaims. I was delighted to see that someone who is a Bestseller uses the omniscient third person point of view, or gaining the insights and thoughts of any character and the ability to be where all the best action and conversation is whether or not the character has an important role in the story. I’ve spent a long time in writing workshops and one thing that a lot of people in the Young Adult genre have told me is that stories flow better from a fixed character’s point of view and that only Charles Dickens could write in omniscient third person because it was so long ago that the style of the era was different and no one knew any better. I wrote my entire first novel before I began workshopping, so I had never even considered what “today’s readers” think is the best POV for a story. I published it because I’m the type of person who would rather write a second book in another style than completely rewrite the first book over something like point of view. Sorry if I ran off the topic, but I feel the need to make mention since I was running this rant through my head every time we left Hal, the main character’s head to hear Thorn, or Tersgood’s thoughts. After being on both sides of the conversation and then listening to a story that carries the underdog view, I’ve now decided both are just fine.
Based on the other’s accurate, technical description of boxing and grappling I believe Mr. Flanagan has trained in martial arts. One bit of footwork he described early on really stuck in my craw for a couple days. It was about throwing a right hook, when your jab hand is your left hand. Most people would never connect a right hook because their arm wouldn’t be close enough with their right foot behind their body. Later Thorn explains to Hal that he should always press forward. Aha! When you step forward with your right foot, a right hook is possible and very effective. I practiced a handful of martial arts for years so I love dissecting another writer’s ability to write a fight and Flanagan can write good action scenes. One grappling scene lost me, but again I was driving so perhaps my attention was simply frayed.
I disliked the use of certain phrases that I felt don’t fit the time period. “Who are you, his lawyer?” and “brand new” are two examples I noted (while pulled over, safety first!).
Thorn and Hal’s relationship was heartwarming. When Hal literally rebuilds Thorn into a whole man the symbolism of Thorn’s spiritual healing represented by the boy’s inventions nearly made me weep. I’m a father though, and that kind of thing hits the button!
One final nitpick, sometimes the narrative spoils a scene by stating flatly what dialogue and action are about to show. I know I’ve used this device myself a couple times, but I heard it enough to become annoyed by chapter 40.
I will definitely look out for the next adventure of the Brotherband. I know this book has been out a while and there are plenty more to go, but I may wait until my son and I have a road trip. The dynamic between Hal and his seven friends is great. I clearly remember seven of the eight by their distinct characterization. Perhaps the last boy is just a wall flower! I won’t mention who, challenge yourself and try to guess.
All my criticism above is just a personal reflection of style and I don’t feel like it should dissuade even the reader who shares my opinions. I really enjoyed this Viking adventure!