Brotherband: The Outcasts by John Flanagan
Review by Brian Herstig
Flanagan has himself a nice thing going. What started years ago as a series of short stories to encourage his son to read has turned into a now 13 book series that has sold over 2 million copies. It takes place in a European medieval like world with knights, rangers, raiding pirates, and spies. The original series, The Ranger’s Apprentice, followed orphan Will as he became a ranger. Over 11 books you got to know Will, his mentor Halt, his best friend (and knight) Horace, and his love, the diplomat Alyss. A teen series, the action is frequent, plots not too complex (good is good, evil is evil), and the moral lessons not too terribly overbearing. They are a fun, easy read.
Brotherband takes place in the same world as the initial Rangers Apprentice series, but with a new series of characters introduced in book one of the series – The Outcasts. In this initial volume a group of misfit Scandian (think Vikings) boys, just having come of age, find a way to band together, count on each others strengths, and become a team able to defeat two other teams of heavily favoured, and traditional, groups in a series of physical and maritime tasks. After having won an annual contest and being embraced by their formerly sceptical community they are accorded the honour of guarding the nation’s most precious relic for a night, when a pirate promptly steals it from under their noses, thus shaming them and returning them to their former status of outcasts. They quickly steal their own ship and take off after the pirate – the only way to restore their honour and work their way back into society is to overtake the pirates and return the relic.
Book two – The Invaders – picks up exactly where book 1 left off – the pirates have a head start with the relic and a massive storm is blowing in. Only Hal and his brotherband, recently disgraced, are able to escape the harbour before the storm blows in and chase after to secure the relic and return their honor. The first third of the book focuses on their continued training as they beach their ship amidst the storm and wait for it to pass. Much of this portion, and the entire first book, is about this motley crew of individuals who are all, in their own way, outcasts and non-traditional in a seafaring and war focused culture. Hal, the leader, is only half-Skandian and an intellectual planner – not overly strong, he “thinks too much”. There is Stig, his best friend and a strong fighter, but with a very short fuse. There is a large, but kind, brute who is severely near-sighted, a nimble thief, twins who can’t stop fighting with each other – you get the idea. They each have their issues but, when focused and working as a team, are able to accomplish things no one expects of them. They come together enough in the first book to win the brotherband ritual, but continue to act out in their own way. Through book two they gradually come to rely on each others strengths and truly understand that they work because they are a team. And that team is headed by Hal.
The other issue that is hanging over their heads is the fact that they have been branded as outcasts because they allowed the most sacred relic of their people to be stolen. The only way they can return, and re-enter society is to recapture it and return home – as heroes. The desire of the group to return home and reclaim their place in society is overwhelming. They had all been misfits and outcasts as individuals, found a home and acceptance as a team, and then lost it all again. Having been insiders finally, they are twice as motivated to return to accepted society. And Hal, as their leader and the most introspective of all, feels the pressure more keenly and emotionally.
The remainder of the book focuses on the tactical planning and implementation of dislodging the pirates from a stronghold town they have overtaken (there is a hidden gem mine that they are plundering) in order to free the town, capture the ship, and get the relic. It is an opportunity for Hal to, once again, shine and show his tactical prowess, highlight the faith and trust his crew have in him, and allow him to regain his poise and confidence. Things work out brilliantly, except that the pirate, barely, gets away in the end, allowing us to have a third and concluding book in this series of stories.
Flanagan knows his audience – teens – and what they can handle. He is, after all, a former creator and writer of a teen TV series in his native Australia. He provides bite sized concepts that have only slightly complex solutions. His characters are fleshed out enough, but generally one-note. He works from a premise that good wins out over evil because of preparation, thoughtfulness, kindness, and respect. He has built a large world over 13 novels and explores it. In this series, he focuses a lot on ships and sailing and I found myself having learned quite a bit about yardarms, keels, and tacking.
If you’ve read and liked Ranger’s Apprentice, you will enjoy Brotherband Chronicles. The focus on the building of a group and need to work together is something new and different in Flanagan’s world and it works quite well. He is an accomplished writer who knows how to pace a book and use humour. Overall a good and simple read.
Jenny from UK
Loved every second of reading The Outcasts, even fell in love with Hal and Stig. If you haven't read this book yet, what you waiting for? GO, GO ON READ IT NOW!
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