The Invaders by John Flanagan is the second book of The Brotherband Chronicles, which is a companion trilogy to The Ranger’s Apprentice series. This review will be mostly spoiler-free, though you would get more out of it if you’ve read the book.
Ranger’s Apprentice was excellent, from start to finish. The characters were interesting, the humor was perfect, and the subtle references to real world history were intriguing. The author knows a lot about how things worked in medieval times, and it’s interesting to see why spiral stairs curved right instead of left. Unfortunately, much of that was exhausted by the time The Brotherband Chronicles began.
The Brotherband Chronicles follows the adventures of a group of young and revolutionary Skandians, similar to the Vikings from our world. The Skandians were one of the more largely featured peoples in the original series, so there isn’t much more to learn about them. I don’t know how the author made the original characters lovable, but he couldn’t manage to replicate it here. The characters are all right, I suppose. They just never made me feel anything about them. The humor remained, but in a smaller amount– the interplay between Halt, Will, and Horace in the original series was one of the funniest parts, and they never come into this trilogy.
I’ll try not to write things about the first book since it’s been a few months since I read it. This will mostly concern the second book, as it should.
I found problems in this book that I never found with Flanagan before. His third-person omniscient, though well-used, is unnecessary in many cases. Several times, he wrote scenes following another set of characters, when he could have done equally well describing the same things later. For instance, he wrote a scene through the eyes of the defenders of a small town as it was being attacked. Sure, it was interesting at the time, but later the remnant of that town tells the main characters how everything happened. Of course, since the scene had already been described, the author skipped over the brief description. But it works the other way as well. Since it would be described to the main characters later, there was no reason to leave the main characters at all. Similarly, he took a few scenes from the perspective of pirates guarding watchtowers, just so he can say how devastating pine splinters are.
Of course, there are benefits to doing omniscient the way he does. Sometimes it can be used to create suspense. Unfortunately, none of it worked since we didn’t care about the characters all that much.
There was one problem with the suspense: they keep winning! If the author had made us care about the pirates instead of the Skandians, it would have been a much more interesting story. The pirates were never out of danger, and the Skandians were never in it. Furthermore, the Skandians are geniuses. They improvise without a thought and it always succeeds. Perhaps that would be a great thing to have, if only they were in danger when they took that extra risk. But no, there was no suspense.
However, there was plenty of action. This was no mere second act book. Unfortunately, the action came to a climax too early for a second book, making it seem as though the story would wrap up there. It didn’t. Instead, the pirates escape for no reason other than a ship is sinking and the author needed to write a trilogy.
One thing that kept me from identifying with the characters was the author’s tendency to say, “Blank was so much more mature now. Three months ago, he’d have blank.” A few of those popped up for every character, and it was extremely annoying.
I suppose it was good that I was reshaping and editing this book in my mind– good for me, bad for the author. I managed to catch inefficiency and flaws in the point of view, which will definitely help in editing my own stuff. Unfortunately, I’ve lost a lot of respect for Flanagan– he seemed to have hit the jackpot with Halt and Will and can’t do it again. Nevertheless, I’ll complete the trilogy and see if it’s redeemable.