There’s nothing quite like a good old yarn about young heroes with knives and bows in a rich medieval setting with serious villains, a little romance, a bit of subtle humour and happy endings. With global success and a seriously dedicated fan base, Flanagan has found a formula that works beautifully and he’s stuck with it through to Book 11 The Lost Stories, which is slightly different from the others in the series. The book still has the same swashbuckling yet modest heroes — Will, Halt, and a few others such as Gillan, Crowley, and Alyss, working for the king to keep the fantasy Kingdom of Araluen safe. However, as the title suggests, Book 11 is written in the form of short stories uncovered on a dig by modern day Archaeologist Giles and his assistant Audrey.
Most of the stories were written by Flanagan in response to questions asked by readers. These include things like how Halt came to find and take care of Will, Will’s romance with Alyss, how Will lost and found his speech for Evanlyn and Horace’s wedding, the origins of Morgarath’s great wrath, and how Halt entered the Rangers. Even Will’s dog Ebony has a story, as does Will’s talking horse Tug, whose in-depth characterisation and deadpan humour almost steals the limelight from Will.
If you haven’t already read books 1-10, these aren’t the best stories to start from since they pre-suppose some knowledge. But Flanagan does take care to provide subtle background material and bring the reader into the picture, and it’s certainly not impossible to read this book in isolation. The stories read quickly and are very easy to follow and get into, which speaks to the appeal these books have for reluctant readers. There is a good mix between action, reflection, and dialogue, and the stories are well written, with the wholesome theme of good conquering evil in a variety of forms keeping everything positive without descending into corniness.
The stories are particularly well researched, with lots of detail about fighting, ancient building, castles, and weaponry: “the long-handled axe was designed as a weapon for footsoldieres to use against mounted wariors and, more specifically, their horses.” (247). The settings are rich and evocative, and the world of Araluen comes together for the reader in a realistic way.
Although it’s clear that these are primarily stories for boys, with battles and acts of chivalry, Alyss is a strong female character in these. Jenny doesn’t do badly in her story either, with some of the food descriptions particularly enticing and solid characterisation against that of the Rangers, so girls will probably also enjoy both tales. This is a fantastic collection for young people, combining a fast pace with good morals, and lots of fun and engagement. It’s easy to see why these books have been so successful. Fans will enjoy finding out more about the backstories of their favourite characters, and the book leads very neatly into the new Brotherband series.