The Brotherband Chronicles: The OutcastsJohn Flanagan
When I knew John Flanagan would be coming to Smith Middle School, I knew I'd need to quickly get caught up on his work. With my semester of Grad school winding down, and my workload ramping up, I struggled to find time to do so. I had a choice to make: start with The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, chronologically the first of his books, or dive right in to The Brotherband Chronicles: The Outcasts. I chose both, but I realized that he'd be promoting the latter series's newest release, so it was with Hal and the rest of the Herons that I decided to take flight. And it was a fine choice.
Botherband refers to a competition in which the young men of Hallasholm in Skandia (think Scandinavia) must participate. At the end of the trials, the winning team is given great honors, but all emerge with a set of compatriots for future exploits. Like Will from the former series, Hal is different from the rest of the people of his nation. His ingenuity sets him apart from the rest of the town, and his Brotherband companions - albeit with different strengths - are no different. Stig, his stubborn best friend, is the muscle of the group; Ulf and Wolf are a hilarious set of twins who know no limits; Edvin is the studious one; Ingvar is the blind giant; Jesper can surreptitiously sneak around; and Stephen can mimic any sound or or voice. Each is given moments to shine in a way that doesn't feel too contrived. Hal's mentor-of-sorts is Thorn, whose past is mired by how we encounter him at the beginning of the novel- a drunkard without direction. With Thorn's advice and the knowledge of each members' strengths, Hal and his Brotherband face the challenges of the competition against some serious competitors, with each test more difficult than the one before. When I realized the novel would be structured around these events, I thought I was faced with a predictable novel; however, Flanagan flipped a lot of my predictions on their heads, with some contests ending earlier than I would've thought possible, and some being resolved in very unlikely was. This lack of predictability, coupled with his urgent pace and well-developed characters, made the adventure all the more thrilling. It also helped that he provided nautical terms at the beginning of the book.
This first novel is filled with adventure and makes for a good introduction to the world created by Flanagan. While most of the conflicts and the majority of the plot are driven by the Brotherband challenges, there is an ominous undercurrent that is realized at the end of the novel, propelling the Brotherband into further exploits in the novels that follow. My favorite character in the book is Thorn, whose redemptive arc is one of the best I've read in a long time, and whose mentorship of Hal calls to mind some of the better mentorships in literature, yet remains wholly unique and complex.
I highly recommend this novel for fans of fantasy and adventure, or anyone who likes a cerebral main character.