The Invaders, a Review

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.

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22 Comments

  1. Erin

     /  April 5, 2013

    I’ve only read the first book of the Brotherband series, and I definitely have to agree that it was nowhere near as awesome as Ranger’s Apprentice. In defense of Flanagan, though, I think the primary reason for this is that, because RA was so good, we all had extremely high expectations for his next series. When it turned out not to be as amazing as RA, we were all disappointed.

    That said, I don’t think Flanagan made the smartest move by writing another series about the RA world. As you said, we already know almost everything there is to know about the Skandians and their country, so what more is there to talk about? If Flanagan had really wanted to write another series, he should have started with something completely new. I would have been eager to see what he came up with.

    And nobody can compare to Will, Halt, or Horace. NOBODY.

    Reply
    • You’re absolutely right. He’s explored every avenue, and I’d love to see another story in another imaginative world. That is, if he can think up a world that isn’t based on real history.

      Agreed. Though Athos from the Three Musketeers is a lot like Halt.

      Reply
      • Erin

         /  April 5, 2013

        I think he should definitely stick to the fantasy genre. He’s good at that. But then, on the other hand, I don’t know how well he writes in other genres, so I guess I can’t really judge.

        Yeah, now that you point that out, I can see the similarities…

      • It was strange how RA began in fantasy, with the Kalkara and Wargals and Morgorath’s mind-controlling stuff (all those names are so cliche I hate to type them), but then it dissolved into regular stuff. I still like that regular stuff, but he could do well with big monsters.

      • Erin

         /  April 5, 2013

        Wow. I never noticed that before, but it’s true. Most of RA is only considered fantasy because it’s set in a fictional world.

      • Indeed. Though, those super-endurant and basically magic horses could be a fantasy species.

      • Erin

         /  April 5, 2013

        Ha, true. I want to own Tug.

      • I just want to be a Ranger. That way I get my own version of Tug as well as all the knives and bows and stuff.

      • Erin

         /  April 6, 2013

        AGREED.

  2. I haven’t finished the RA series – something Ransom was the last one I read (the name of that Skandian jarl dude, I’ve forgotten). I want to try and find the rest, though it’s a little hard here in the UK because they don’t print them.

    I had a look at the premise of the Brotherband books, but I have to say even from the outset they don’t seem as interesting – the RA series was awesome because it was a new world as well as new characters, and through Will’s perspective we saw a lot more of it. Brotherband looked a bit more narrowed and focussed, because while Will is growing up and making mistakes and going to new places, I didn’t get that vibe from Brotherband.

    And I think, as Erin said, a series set in the same world can often make the reader miss the old characters a lot – I know I certainly have troubles with that, because if I don’t engage with the new characters well I start hankering after the old ones, which I wouldn’t do in an alternative setting. Then again, who WOULDN’T miss Will and Halt and Horace.
    That line from book five (I think?) when Horace and Halt go looking for Will in the north will never leave me:
    “I said you were Sir Horace of the oak leaf . . . though I may have said you were Sir Horace of the oak pancake . . .”

    Reply
    • Erak’s Ransom is the best of the bunch, if you ask me. I loved that book.

      You’re absolutely right. I think, unless you make the reader fall in love with the world, not the characters, you’re making a bad decision setting the story in the same world. In RA, it was the characters, though the world was interesting too. Similarly (to a lesser extent) in Eragon. If Paolini ever tries another Alagaesia series, I doubt it will take off the same way. Same with the new Star Wars movie. That’s also why the Bourne Legacy was never quite as cool as the Bourne trilogy. However, things like the Redwall series have the interesting world with all the rulers and bad guys and stuff perpetually in flux. Matthias was cool, as was Martin, as was Taggerung, but we loved the world more. And by doing a prequel and trilogy with different main characters, Tolkien generated the same love, allowing us to read the Silmarillion without wishing to see the same characters.

      That was book three, actually, but it’s priceless.

      Reply
      • Erak’s Ransom, that’s the one! I never got around to any of the other books after that – I didn’t know there were any, I thought that was it! Not in the least because it took place the year before the previous book . . . that was confusing.

        In other words – I can only agree with what you wrote there, though I have not read the Redwall saga xP

      • Whoops, sorry. I keep forgetting who’s read what.

      • Not a worry 🙂

  3. You know, now that you mention it, I had a hard time getting through the second book… Partially because it seemed to be a little bit too slow for me, and also partially because… I missed the original characters. I liked Svengal in the second and third books, but he was only really a minor character, so it wasn’t quite enough humor to satisfy me. Thorn didn’t do it, either, though my brother seemed to think he was hilarious.

    I’m kind of wondering what Flanagan is going to do for the fourth book that’s supposedly coming out soon, since the third book didn’t seem to leave very many ties open…

    Reply
    • Well, he enjoys continuing series that seem to have ended. Such as Ranger’s Apprentice, after the fourth book… and after the sixth… and the seventh… and the tenth… and the eleventh…

      Reply
      • Yeah. It kind of worked with Ranger’s Apprentice, though, because you know the Rangers’ work isn’t going to suddenly end as soon as Morgorath is taken care of and Will is brought back to Araluen. I might just be saying that, though, because the tenth book was my favorite. Brotherband, though, I’m not sure… I guess we’ll have to see. If I remember, the only real tie he left open was…the love triangle with Lydia or whatever her name was. *facepalm*

      • Oh, the later books were awesome, but the series had still ended after each one. Only a few truly led in to the next.

        I haven’t spared the energy to remember anything useful from that trilogy. Hopefully he can do something good with it, but I’m not sure.

      • Yeah. Which book is your favorite? If you have one.

        Hehe, the only reason I remember it was because it—surprise, surprise—kind of annoyed me.

      • Probably Erak’s Ransom. Standalone, interesting setting, wonderful emotion. All of them were good, though.

        That isn’t why an author would want you remembering books.

      • I don’t really remember all that much of that one, but I do remember enjoying it. And if I recall, there was one scene that was pretty…intense.

        Hehe, I imagine not.

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