Here's a book that middle school kids will really enjoy, particularly boys. I really enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to the sequels. The book indicates that there will be four books in the series, but I did an Internet search on the author, and it looks as though there will be seven or eight. At this point, I can only say that that's good news.
As his fifteenth birthday approaches, Will has just one dream: he wants to be chosen as a Battleschool apprentice on Choosing Day. Choosing Day is when the Duke's wards learn their fates. Will they be chosen to apprentice in a craft or guild, or will they be sent to work on a farm as a common laborer? More than anything, Will wants to join the Battleschool and become a knight someday. Will knows little of his family, not even his own last name. The only scraps of knowledge he has are that his mother died in childbirth and that his father died heroically in battle against the evil Lord Morgarath. That must mean his father was a great knight, and Will wants to follow in his footsteps. But knights are big and brawny, and Will is small and scrawny. He knows in his heart that he doesn't have the build to be a knight, but he knows that he is strong and fast, and maybe that will count for something. But it doesn't.
Will can barely swallow his disappointment when his rival, Horace, is chosen for Battleschool and he himself is refused. Even worse, none of the other guild or craft masters will take him on. Only the Ranger speaks up when the Duke asks if any of them will take a second apprentice, and that is only to give the Duke a note. It seems that Will is doomed to a life as a farm laborer. As crushed as he is, Will also can't help wondering about that note the Ranger gave to the Duke. Clearly, it was something about him. Or was it? Will has to know. Years of sneaking about the castle to play tricks and steal pies from the cook have taught Will how to sneak in and around the castle without being spotted by the guards. It's an easy thing for him to scale the wall of the castle and into the Duke's office. It's even easier to sneak over to the desk to find the mysterious piece of paper. He reaches out to grab it...and a hand reaches out to grab his. Terrified, Will looks up and into the eyes of Halt, the Ranger. Where had he come from?
It's a trap, and Will has fallen right into it. But it is also a test, and Will's refusal to lie about what he was doing means he passes that test. Will is to become the Ranger's apprentice. The training is hard, and Halt is not an easy teacher. It isn't Battleschool, but Will soon learns that rangers play just as important a role in keeping the kingdom safe as the knights do, and maybe even more. Rangers are the eyes and ears of the kingdom, gathering intelligence and reporting to the dukes and king. When Lord Morgarath, who fifteen years ago killed the previous king and was only barely defeated, gathers a new army of alien creatures and begins to menace the kingdom again, it's the rangers who know first, and it's Halt, his old apprentice Gilan, and Will who are on the front lines in the battle against him.
Edited to add a link to a very interesting interview with John Flanagan and a link to his web site. Lucky Australians! They're up to Book 6 there, and the seventh book in the series is due out soon. I'm writing this on August 10, 2007, and Book 3, The Icebound Land, has only just been published here in the U.S. Oh, well. Something to look forward to!