Book Review: The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  358

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

The Kings of Clonmel is the 8th book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The last book I reviewed was book 6, The Siege of Macindaw. So what happened to book 7? I skipped it for 2 reasons: 1) It is about Erak and the middle-eastern-like land of Arrida, which almost ruined the series for me in book 4, and 2) it’s chronologically out of order, taking us back to a point between books 4 and 5 when Will is still a ranger’s apprentice rather than a full-fledged ranger. So I decided to skip book 7 (or 4.5 if you will) and move on to book 8.

I’m glad I did, because book 8 is a great story about the past of Will’s mentor, Halt – where he comes from, his family, and why he left Clonmel. We have subplots involving a nasty cult, Halt’s family, and his relationship with the King of Clonmel, Ferris. We have duels, assassins, bandits, smooth talking cult leaders, cowardly kings, giant bodyguards, and of course rangers. In other words, the book is full of action-packed sequences that make sense, and they make sense because Flanagan takes time to explain the motivations and questions of the characters and the plot. It’s almost as if he sat down with some friends, had them read the story, and then they found all the holes so that he could plug them.

The characters are fairly well fleshed out. Halt, Will, and Horace remain consistent, although Halt seems a bit crankier as he is constantly reminded that he’s getting up in years. The father-son-like relationship that Halt and Will have developed is nicely done and not overly dramatic. I enjoy reading a book for once where characters are not delivering pages and pages of monologue about their innermost feelings as the action grinds to a stop. These characters know who they are and what they are capable of, and it’s refreshing. They also embody integrity and courage, so they are easy to root for. Readers looking for dark, edgy characters won’t find much here.

One aspect that makes the book intriguing is the back story of Halt. Little by little, we are introduced to Halt’s past. The enigmatic ranger, who has been somewhat of a mystery to this point in the series, is suddenly fleshed out and fully developed, and it’s something I think many fans of the series have been waiting for.

The main villain is Tennyson, the leader of the cult. Tennyson is well done…to watch him change from his early calm and confident nature to frustration and hostility when things aren’t going his way is perfect. Most of the other characters aren’t developed much, though. I would have liked to have more time spent on the Genovesan assassins, as well as Ferris, the weak king of Clonmel, who doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than allowing the cult to gain a foothold in his land.

The pace is brisk, and while the plot doesn’t have any major shocks, other than one involving Halt’s past, neither is it totally predictable. The ending is only somewhat wrapped up, as the stage for the next book is set and already under way. It’s not a cliffhanger but more of a continuation, similar to the way Flanagan transitioned from The Sorcerer of the North to The Siege of Macindaw (from book 5 to book 6).

If I have one major criticism of the story, it’s the attempt at humor. Though there’s a lot of grinning, chuckling, and laughter, they are of the guess-you-had-to-be-there variety. There weren’t any moments were I found myself grinning or laughing out loud. Still, this is a minor quibble and did not affect my enjoyment of the story.

Though the series is intended for young adults, I’ve been entertained as Flanagan has had Will and Horace grow up while growing his audience at the same time. It’s similar to what J. K. Rowling has done with Harry Potter, although Flanagan has taken it far more slowly and with less bleakness.

Remembering back to just after I finished book 4, The Battle for Skandia, I was ready to quit this series. I’m glad I didn’t and stuck with it. The Kings of Clonmel is one of the best entries in the series to date, and I’m looking forward to book 9.

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