The Outcasts: The Brotherband Chronicles
Mr. Flanagan, you are a magician with words. Time and time again you craft these delightful tales of wind and sea and youth growing into everything you want them to be and it makes me smile this idiotic smile. You did it the first time with Will and Horace and Halt and Tug (Tug!) and now you’ve gone and done it again with Hal and Stig and Ingvar and Thorn. You gave me a scrawny gawky underdog of a kid and you let me watch as he grows and grows. And the Skandians! I can’t tell you how happy I was to find Erak and Svengal on the first page. There might have been a small happy dance. Okay, who am I kidding? Of course there was a happy dance.
In a land of snow and rain, Hal is surrounded by the burly people of Skandia. Hal isn’t exactly like everyone else in Skandia, in no small part because his mother is Araluen, but also because his father died in action when he was a small child. He and his best friend Stig, another fatherless boy, must find their place as they work their way through Brotherband training. Their Brotherband of misfits must find a way to succeed against all odds, while a town of Skandian raiders looks on.
This story is captivatingly satisfying. Hal is adorable (though I imagine he’d probably blush in real life if he heard me say that.) He’s the kind of kid every mom hopes for. He’s industrious and hardworking, but more importantly in a book review, he’s effortless. I believed in him immediately and never stopped. It’s not just that I invested in him; I gave him my heart. Every step he takes, you take with him and hope fervently that the ground holds beneath him. In some ways it’s like the Ranger’s Apprentice all over again. (If you haven’t read that series yet, you should. Go get it now. I’ll wait…) Flanagan has a masterful talent for writing kids that win your heart.
As to the actual story, Flanagan’s writing is natural. There’s no other word for it. I know there was a writing process and drafts and edits, but in my mind, it’s one of those things that has always just been. The prose is the exact right tone for the story and that’s always been true of Flanagan. Like I said, the man’s a magician.
5 ink bottles and good luck not smiling when you read the words “One Jolly Goblin”.