One thing about a busy travel schedule: I get a lot of reading done on planes!
Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan. It’s been a while since I read a classic sword and sorcery fantasy novel, but I enjoyed this one a lot. In fact, it had no sorcery at all, which was kind of refreshing. It was a believable, well-grounded alternate medieval earth. In Flanagan’s world, young wards of the state have to choose professions, and Will is reluctantly recruited to become a ranger. The relationship between Will and his Battleschool rival is particularly well portrayed, and Will’s training as a ranger makes for great reading. The novel was a bit long on the explanations for my taste — a lot of telling about the characters especially at the beginning when showing would have sufficed — but that did not stop me from enjoying the book. On a purely technical note, this was one of the few books I’ve read that uses third-person omniscient point-of-view and actually pulls it off. We know what most of the characters are thinking all the time, and yet it doesn’t get confusing. I will definitely look for the rest of this series.
Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppell. This is the sequel to Oppell’s Airborn, which I read and loved last year. If anything, I liked Skybreaker better. Oppell does a great job capturing the spirit of “classic boy adventures” like Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which admittedly I never read as a boy, but I caught up with later). In Skybreaker, our young hero Matt Cruse spots a ghost ship of the air, the Hyperion, and inadvertently launches a frenzied hunt for the massive treasure that is supposedly on board. The only problem: the Hyperion is hovering above 20,000 feet, which makes it almost impossible to reach with conventional airships. Lots of adventure, a little romance, and a good sense of humor made this a quick, exciting read. I’ve tried to “book talk” these books to my son, so far without success, because it’s difficult for me to explain the world of airships that Oppell conjures so well. Still, these books are definitely worth checking out.
Endymion Spring, by Matthew Skelton. This book got a lot of buzz before publication and after, which may have skewed my reading of it. It has a great setting (Oxford) and an intriguing conceit (a magical dragon-skin book linked to historical figures such as Faust and Gutenberg). The main character Blake is dealing with family problems that are compelling and realistic. And yet . . . I felt very unsatisfied after finishing this book. I felt like there was a lot of build up that didn’t really go anywhere, and a lot of potential for a powerful resolution that was never realized. For example, a major revelation about Blake’s parents toward the end of the book was covered in one sentence narrated by the author rather than revealed through the characters, which made it lose its impact. The final confrontation with the villain just didn’t ring true to me, and after that confrontation, the book dragged on for two more chapters that didn’t feel necessary. It was as if the story unraveled in the second half and didn’t go some of the promising directions it might have gone. Still, it was an original idea for a children’s fantasy, and yet similar enough to, say, the Da Vinci Code, that I can understand why the publisher is pushing it. Give it a read and see what you think.