Thursday, August 1, 2013
The Ranger's Apprentice
I've been told I need to read more fantasy if I want to write fantasy. I used to ignore such advice. I mean, you just need to know how to create stories and write well. Fantasy is really just anything that comes out of your head that boring, reasonable people would never consider possible.
(Well, okay that was a broad definition. Sci-fi could go under a definition like that too at times. And Steampunk, and . . . okay, I'll stop there.)
And I have plenty of imagination of my own. Besides I wouldn't want to steal from other fantasy books. That is the first reason why I avoided reading them. I've heard too many complaints that all fantasy books were alike and took too much from Tolkien. So I figured if I didn't read any other fantasy, then I could never be accused of that.
Ahem. Uh. Well, some friends convinced me to read Tolkien. And. . . It seems I had written a scene very much like the Hobbits' spiders in Mirkwood without realizing it. (And in defense of all fantasy writers against the accusation that we take from Tolkien too often I say: Tolkien took everything! He almost wrote every fantasy situation, creature, kingdom, etc. imaginable. Have you seen how thick his books are? But I do say almost. :) )
But maybe there is something in the advice people give about knowing your genre. ( *sighs* Why do they have to be right?) So I've been reading fantasy books lately. I've rather enjoyed it.
I just finish the first book in The Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan. I've heard about the series from many blog friends. But I finally decided to read it when one of the writers at the conference told me she and her son read it together and it's absolutely hilarious. And if it's rumored to be funny, I'll read it.
The bad stuff?
The POV was atrocious. (I considered putting it mildly, but I couldn't, I'm sorry.) I was close to setting the book down. And sometimes the head-hopping messed with the funny parts. The funny parts would've been better if it was done from one POV at a time. It would've been so hilarious. It was still funny, but better POV would've made it even more so.
Tons of adverbs and telling. But I won't say too much, because I'm guilty under the same charges. *hides face in shame*
It would repeat itself. The text would tell us something, then the dialogue would do the same in a not-too subtle way. Information was given through the dialogue and most of the time it was information that the reader was smart enough to already figure out.
Somehow, the truth was more stirring, more inspiring than any fantasy he could have made up over the years to sustain himself.
The good stuff?
Once I got past the POV, I really enjoyed the story itself. The Rangers are awesome. Just saying. Kind of like Tolkien's Rangers, but Flanagan had developed them more and I love how he did it. The weaponry is cool. Archery is one of my favorites in fantasy. Along with espionage. The Ranger's cloak is so neat.
And the dialogue was hilarious! I love Halt's exchange with Salt Peter. That was probably one of my favorite parts. I could just see them standing in the snow and Halt trying to be patient.
"Why do young people invariably answer a question with another question?"
There were monsters. But not goblins or some other known fantasy creature. Flanagan created monsters of his own. *applause* I love it when authors do that. I'm always afraid that the readers won't be able to envision a creature of my own. But Flanagan was good, and brave. At first, I didn't quite see the Kalkara very well. But once the characters actually saw and encountered the Kalkara, I had a clear picture. Which seems reasonable since Will was the protagonist and he had never seen the Kalkara.
"See what you've done?" he said to Will. "You've got him answering questions with questions now!"
He had great fighting scenes too. I'm always afraid mine fall flat and seem all alike. But I could picture what was happening and they were always different. And nail-biting. :)
Another one of my favorite parts: The Solitary Plain and the Stone Flutes. It set my teeth on edge. I could just hear it (and that didn't help the headache I had). Talk about eerie. I could see myself riding beside them. Halt would be out of patience with me because I'd probably be so crazy anxious from the sound alone. It was the best, unnerving setting to track the Kalkara.
The characters! Okay, the characterization wasn't quite as strong as I would've liked, but I think that's because the POV was everywhere. If the POV had been sharper, I think the characterization would have been strong and natural. That aside, I still loved the characters. :) Here were my favorites:
"It's just that Halt seems to be so grim all the time," he said.
"He certainly doesn't have my sparkling sense of humor," the Baron agreed, then Will looked blankly at him. . .
The Baron! I love his wit. And I could relate to him. The poor man's humor is always taken too seriously and nobody gets that he's joking. I really liked him. He was a Baron, but he saw himself as just another person, really.
Do you mind?
Tug. :) Okay, so there were POV problems with Tug's character development. But I love that Flanagan gave voice to Tug's thoughts. You don't see that often, and I love it when the author is brave enough to give the animal companion a voice. Tug's such a daring, witty pony, speedy too. And I loved the friendship that Will and he had.
Will was a good protagonist. His overall character was a lot of fun. From his infamous pranks to how he matured more at the end. Even though I agree with Halt on his asking too many questions. But he was skilled to be a Ranger. His courage, diligence, and humility are admirable. I'm so glad him and Horace became friends in the end. And I love how with very little description, it didn't take me long to see him. It's great when an author can give you a good mental picture without dragging on details; it's hard to do. Actually Will and his story reminded me about a story that I scrapped and plan to bring back one day. Which just makes me like him all the more. :)
"He said names weren't important. He said supper was important, but not names."
My favorite though was Halt. I kind of wonder where Flanagan got Halt's name because it fits him so perfect. From the very beginning when he just appears in this camouflage cloak, I knew I'd like him. I like how he's. . . not over-enthusiastic. About anything. His aloofness. His intelligence. His humility. And when he smiled at the end- I could see it. :) And it happened at the end, at just the right time.
"That's right, a castle. Now, go to the guard at the gate. . ."
"Is it a big castle?" asked the old fellow.
"It's a huge castle!" Halt roared at him.