Substance abuse, bad Frenchmen and philosophy – but now I know why I’m reading them

Ranger’s Apprentice Book Three: The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

All right, out of necessity this blog post is going to be full of spoilers ’cause I can’t talk about anything interesting that happened in this book without you know, talking about what happened in this book. So if you’re inspired to read this series and don’t want to know what happens in the third book you should probably go find something else to do with the next ten  minutes of your life.

For anyone else who’s left, let’s continue.

So the Icebound Land picks up where Burning Bridge ended. Will and Evelyn/Cassandra are being kidnapped by Skandian mercenaries (read Vikings)and looking forward to an exciting life of slavery. Halt and Horace are pursuing them through Gallica (read France). Halt is struggling with his oath as a Ranger since it’s stopping him from questing after his apprentice. Horace doesn’t have these problems.

This book started on a high note, which was Halt getting drunk, committing treason and starting a bar fight so he could get exiled and thus be free to go after Will. Unfortunately the story kind of slips downhill after that. Nothing clever happens. Will and Evelyn have a few lame attempts to escape. Halt and Horace follow a very traditional, riding, challenging knights, sleeping at inns, getting sidetracked by people who need help kind of quest and then at the end a satisfying meeting of Halt and Will doesn’t even happen. This meeting is pretty much the reason I’m going to read the fourth one. For all the lack of character depth I am looking forward to it.

‘Cause everyone loves the moment when their favourite character finally catches up with the person they love most in the world. At least, I think they do. Well, I do anyway.

So there are four things that I think I’ll muse on about this book.

Number one: Drugs!

Drugs are complicated. As I understand it, people do them for a variety of reasons, they are rarely particularly good for the people who are doing them and it’s often pretty challenging to stop doing them. Unfortunately this book features Will getting addicted to something called warmweed. His slave masters give it to him on purpose because it makes people easier to control. And by easier to control I mean it makes them into zombies. It’s highly addictive and Will has to go through a long, painful withdrawal process to get control of his life back, not that he cares because he’s a zombie. And there in lies the problem for me. It is a kids book, but there are loads of kids who are affected by drugs and loads of children will grow into teenagers and adults who may have to make decisions about drugs. So I kind of figure if you’re going to have your main character addicted to drugs the least you can do is make it a little more, well, three dimensional than “and someone tricked/forced him into using this drug and it turned him into a complete zombie who wouldn’t raise a hand to help himself if you set his feet on fire until someone slowly, loving, patiently weened him off of it and he became fine again.”  Again, drugs generally cause problems but I’m pretty sure very few of them, if any at all work in such a simplistic, good or bad, no choice kind of way. That’s all I’m saying.

Number two: Bad Frenchmen

Okay, so Halt or Horace are trekking through a neighbouring country where the people speak French, say “ma sewers” and eat long, thin, crusty bread. Maybe I’m reading between the lines but I think it’s France. Which is cool, I like France – visited a few times, enjoyed their long, thin crusty bread, managed to maintain the odd conversation in French about when my train was leaving or what I like on my pizza and went swimming in the Mediterranean sea. But this book is full, I cannot emphasis how full, of comments about how the men in this country have no regard for honour, how they are cowardly, how they are incompetent, how they rule by fear, how they are generally useless and I can’t help but wonder what on earth does John Flanagan have against French people?

He’s also not very flattering towards Vikings.

Number three: Word use.

At least twice in this book someone “accepts their fate philosophically”. I am of the opinion that good writing shouldn’t draw attention to itself but somehow I noticed every time “philosophically” came  up, which makes me think it wasn’t a good word choice. Also, in a book that uses words like “cowl”, “foolhardy” and “composites” having Halt roll his eyes and say “puh-lease” just seemed… ridiculous

Number four: How much I want a magical Ranger pony

There is a lovely scene in which Halt’s Ranger ponies warn him that he’s being followed by someone in the bushes (Horace). The horse indicated that there was someone in the bushes pretty much the way my horse indicates that she thinks there might be something in the bushes. Only when my mare does it, there’s never anything in the bushes and instead of warning me by snorting or tossing her head she jumps ten feet in the other direction and tries to run away. I love my pony dearly and wouldn’t trade her for the world but you know, sometimes I can’t help thinking … Ranger pony, kind of awesome.

And that brings me to the end of this blog. I’m still not a nine year old boy, so it’s possible I’m not getting something out of this book that I could be.  But there are better books for boys.

And I’m probably going to read the next one.

Last movie I watched: Sherlock! Although that might count as a TV show, I’m not sure. Anyway, Sherlock – a BBC production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I can’t even explain how awesome it is. Everyone should watch it. EVERYONE.

Last TV show I watched: An episode of Merlin. I love this show!! And this episode had one of the most adorable Merlin Arthur moments – “It’s not wisdom” anyone? Delightful. If we’re being totally honest the excellent Merlin Arthur dynamic is the only reason that show keeps getting renewed.

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