Conditional Recommendation: While Will and Evanlyn try to survive and escape captivity from the Skandians, Halt and Horace battle knight after knight in their efforts to reach Skandia and rescue Will.
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
The third installment in the series picks up right where the second book left off, which is a relief because the reader is left hanging after the sad ending of The Burning Bridge. Flanagan maintains his integrity with good, moral characters and the appropriate discretion for young readers in light of the book containing serious issues like slavery and drug addiction.
Kidnapped and taken to a frozen land after the fierce battle with Lord Morgarath, Will and Evanlyn are bound for Skandia as captives. Halt has sworn to rescue his young apprentice, and he will do anything to keep his promise—even defy his king. Expelled from the Rangers, Halt is joined by Will’s friend Horace as he travels toward Skandia. On their way, they are challenged again and again by freelance knights—but Horace knows a thing or two about combat. Soon his skills begin to attract the attention of warlords for miles around. But will he and Halt be in time to rescue Will?
I made this a conditional recommendation because the book contains a drug addiction. When Will and Evanlyn reach Skandia with their captors, Evanlyn is sent to work as a slave in the kitchens while Will is sent to be a slave in the yard. The yard is basically a death sentence due to hard labor, inadequate food and shelter, and poor treatment. The Skandians have no regard for their yard slaves and it’s implied that they’re expected to die. In the beginning, Will is still strong and healthy and stands up to an older slave who’s angrily whipping a younger slave in the yard. The older slave realizes Will isn’t weak and so decides to get back at him another way—by making him vulnerable and needy and then deceiving him into taking warmweed. Warmweed is an addictive drug that brings feelings of warmth and contentment, a winning combination for a cold and miserable slave. Will quickly becomes addicted and reduced to a shadow of the person he once was. Will’s drug addiction is portrayed as a cruel trick and a tragedy and is in no way Will’s fault or prerogative. Though it’s heart wrenching to read, it turns out for good because his declining condition incites another character into action on Will’s behalf.
As with the other Ranger’s Apprentice books, this one also contains violence and death by way of dueling knights and some cruelty in the captor-slave relationship. I didn’t find anything to be needlessly descriptive. In fact, I think John Flanagan does a great job of explaining what’s happening and being discreet and sensitive enough for young readers.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Friendship is the most noteworthy theme of this book and the qualities of enriching friendships are displayed in the characters of Will, Evanlyn, Halt and Horace. Will and Evanlyn’s friendship is forged in fire and they must strive together and sacrifice for each other to endure their circumstances. Their friendship is a perfect example of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 because Will is a constant source of care and encouragement for Evanlyn whom he at every turn seeks to lift up. And when Will becomes addicted to warmweed, Evanlyn lifts up her companion by caring for his every need and patiently working with him to wean him off the drug. Even a tentative friendship begins to form between Erak and Will on the basis of mutual respect and honor.
John Flanagan is an excellent story teller. His descriptions are interesting and humorous and his skill for describing action moves the story along effortlessly. This book is easy to fall into and understand, making for an enjoyable reading experience.
These books have not failed to deliver excellent characterization and praiseworthy characters that the reader can easily love and root for. This story is split between Will and Evanlyn in Skandia and Halt and Horace traveling to Skandia.
Will – Will is a character readers will continue to love. In this book, we see the self-sacrificing actions he willingly undertakes in order to protect and care for Evanlyn, be it big things like being willing to fight to protect her or small things like taking the bigger workload because she’s weary. Will is concerned with the interests of others, especially Evanlyn, and gives little thought for himself. He considers it his duty to keep her safe and devise a way for them to escape. I think it’s particularly praiseworthy that though Will is forced into terrible slave conditions, he never gives up and he never becomes disrespectful, cynical or bitter. Will’s hopeful perspective and good character endures through hardship.
Evanlyn – She is called to new heights of ingenuity and faithfulness as Will’s companion as they endure captivity and even more so after Will loses himself to his addiction to warmweed. Her loyalty and care for her friend is worthy of praise.
Halt – The most complicated character of them all, he’s intelligent, crafty, and skilled. Thankfully, he’s always out to do what it just and right—like being loyal to Horace even though he yearns to find his apprentice.
Horace – Horace is characterized by humility, integrity, and innocence. He’s straightforward, steady, and greatly respects his elders, positions of power, and those in authority. He grieves injustice and is appalled by evil actions (as he should be!). He’s a knight in shining armor and all that metaphor implies.
Erak – Erak was first introduced in The Burning Bridge and in this book we get to know him to a greater extent. He’s revealed to be hesitantly compassionate, able to see good and do good, and respectful of an “honorable enemy.” Though he’s Will and Evanlyn’s captor, he’s a complex character—not fully an enemy nor fully a friend.
While The Burning Bridge has a bittersweet end, The Icebound Land ends happily and with hope, my favorite kind of ending.
*Audiobooks read by John Keating are excellent and I highly recommend them for this series!