13 Sep 2015

Slaves of Socorro by John Flanagan

Release Date: 1st May 2014
Publisher: Random House Australia
Page Count: 464
Format: Paperback | Borrowed

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Synopsis (from GR): When the Heron brother band become the Skandian duty ship to the Kingdom of Araluen, they're excited at the challenges ahead. Hal, Stig, Thorn and the Herons eagerly set sail for the trip - with an unexpected new crew member aboard. But an enemy from their past returns, throwing the Herons into a dangerous quest to free captured Araluens for the slave market in Socorro. Even with the help of an Araluen Ranger, the task may be too much.

My thoughts: John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series was as much a part of my childhood as Harry Potter, so I was a little disappointed that I wasn't liking Brotherband Chronicles as much - probably because I am well and truly out of the series' target demographic. Some of my criticisms of the early book include that it feels like Flanagan has taken the characters from Ranger's Apprentice and given them new names, the characters of Brotherband Chronicles lack the charm of the one from Ranger's Apprentice, and that the writing - even for a book aimed towards primary school children - feels formulaic. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was easily the best written (and most tightly plotted) of the series so far. Flanagan has managed to find the voice of each character and distinguish them from the characters of Ranger's Apprentice - I was no longer thinking of Hal as Skandian Will or Thorn as Skandian Halt. Naturally, this book isn't perfect - but it was nice to see some development. 

 The Herons have been assigned to watch duty in Araluen for eighteen months, as a part of the treaty between Araluen and Skandia. When they arrive, they learn that Tursgud - their nemesis from their training days - has raided a village and taken some Araluens captive, intending to sell them at a slave market in Socorro. With the help of Gilan, the Herons set out to free the slaves. I have to admit, my favourite part of this book was Gilan - I loved him in Ranger's Apprentice, so his appearance in this series was very welcome. Another favourite is Lydia - she's quick-witted and sharp-tongued, such a fun character to read. 

As this book is aimed towards young(er) children, the plot is rather simplistic and everything does seem to slide into place a little too easily - even when Hal's plans go wrong, I don't feel like the stakes are high enough. For example, Ingvar was taken by the slave master to be sold, and my reaction was "yeah, he'll be fine" - because I knew he would be rescued. There is also a lot of telling instead of showing, and the book is plagued with info dumps at times. There's a lot of technical detail put into this series, but I feel like it doesn't really add anything to the story - if anything, it pulls me out of it. While Flanagan's plot isn't all that grandiose, he is very good at writing dialogue (I believe he was a screenwriter before he became a children's author) and relationships between characters - Lydia and Thorn have one of my favourite relationships. 

Slaves of Socorro is a fun, quick read - it's entertaining and light, and younger readers will probably find this one really engaging.


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