In a medieval Europe much like ours but with all of the names changed, the young orphan Will becomes apprenticed to the elite Ranger Corps of England Araluen after being rejected by the knights' Battleschool due to his small stature. Rangers, their work shrouded in secrecy and camouflaging cloaks, resemble nothing so much as a cross between Robin Hood and the CIA. Will discovers that being a Ranger is not only as exciting and heroic as being a knight, it is also something he excels at.Then he learns the Big Bad is about to invade his country, has sent killer animal monsters after his beloved mentor Halt, and would like to kill every single Ranger (and Ranger apprentice) while he's at it. Things go downhill for Will from there.Rather than just being about battles between good and evil, most of the books have the protagonists use not just martial prowess, but also stealth, cunning, and sometimes diplomacy to defeat their enemies. The author says he began writing the series to demonstrate to his then small young son that you didn't have to be big and strong to be heroic. Later books have a fair amount of mystery mixed in with the action, and the settings for the adventures range from the icy North to the scorching desert.
Books in the Series:
The Ruins of Gorlan
The Burning Bridge
The Icebound Land
The Battle for Skandia
The Sorcerer of the North
The Siege of Macindaw
The Kings of Clonmel
The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
The Lost Stories
The Royal Ranger
John Flanagan has announced that he plans to end the series there. Considering he said the same thing about the tenth book before, some fans hold onto hope that there will be more.
Although as of Halt's Peril it is implied that only the Picta warriors are really bad guys, and it is a major Kick the Dog moment when an innocent couple of Picta farmers are mercilessly slaughtered by the current Big Bad.
The Tualaghi in Book Seven. They're nomads, like the allied Bedullin, but instead of traveling from oasis to oasis like the Bedullin, the Tualaghi travel from town to town, use most of their supplies and then just leave, leaving the townspeople with barely enough to scrape by.
Annoying Arrows: Averted - these arrows are plenty lethal. Played straight in the first book against the wild boar though.
Artifact Title: Zigzagged. Will is a full fledged member in book five, then book seven goes back to show his actual promotion. Eight continues with Silverleaf!Will until book 12, where title character priviledge shifts to Will's new apprentice.
Automaton Horses: Averted. The special Ranger horses may be able to run for incredible amounts of time without rest, but it's pointed out as early as book one that even they need periods of recovery. In addition, Will's horse Tug isn't afraid to get into the fight if he sees his master in trouble, which is also shown as early as book one.
A Ranger will almost always put their horse's safety far above their own. For the horses, there is no "almost".
Badass Teacher: Almost every mentor in the book, including Mr. Chubb, the cook.
Halt's frequently-assumed pseudonym, Arratay, is pronounced suspiciously close to arretez.
In the Lost Stories (a collection of short stories mostly focused on the events after Book Ten), two Genovesans named Mordini and Serafino are sent to assassinate Cassandra. Their names are Italian for Devil and Seraph (a class of angel).
Black and White Morality: The Rangers (and Araluen) are generally good, while their enemies are usually unambiguously bad. However, this is more the case in earlier books — the first couple were full-on black-and-white, while the later books have some shades of grey.
Bodyguard Crush: Cassandra and Horace. Though the crush started to develop even before Horace became Cassandra's bodyguard (but he already saved her a couple of times at this point).
Boom, Headshot: Well, more like "Thwack, Headshot"; since this is set long before the invention of modern firearms. And surprisingly enough, it's not a Ranger that makes the epic headshot in Book Seven that took down the Tualaghi warlord. It was Evanlyn/Princess Cassandra with her sling.
Combat Pragmatist: Will. Most of the Rangers, actually, considering the great majority of them carry little more than a bow, saxe knife and a throwing knife.
Crusading Widower: Will becomes this in Book 12 after finding out his wife Alyss died in an inn fire trying to save a child trapped inside. He becomes absolutely obsessed with finding out who set the inn on fire so he can take his revenge.
Deadpan Snarker: The Series thrives on this trope, practically all important characters are this
Don't Explain the Joke: Baron Arald suffers from this on occasion, since his jokes often go over the heads of those he tells his jokes to. Played straight in the fact that he does this in the presence of Lady Pauline, who actually does get the jokes but chooses not to laugh.
Madelyn, daughter of princess regent Cassandra and first female ranger.
Fake King: Interestingly inverted. When Halt dresses up as the king of Clonmel, he pretends to be Ferris, but it is Ferris that pretends to be the rightful king - a title which belongs to Halt; which means that Halt pretends to be someone who pretends to be him... Oh, dear.note An explanation, then. Halt and Ferris are twins, but Halt was born several minutes earlier, making him the firstborn. Ferris hated this about him and attempted to have him killed in a series of "accidents". Halt quickly caught on, and sick of his brother's attempts on his life, basically said "You want the crown so bad? Here, take it!", and moved out of Hibernia.
Foreshadowed all the way back in book three when Halt issues a challenge to a knight claiming to be Hibernian nobility. When questioned by Horace, Halt passes it off by saying that the knight couldn't prove he lied.
Gang Of Bullies: The group standing behind the transformation of Horace's character.
Genre Shift: The series begins in classic fantasy style - young orphaned hero has to fight against an evil sorcerer controlling an army of monsters. However, in later books there's not a shred of the fantastic to be seen, indeed one story deals with a plot about an old man using primitive science to fake magic. Strangely, it works.
For those who don't get it. Warmweed is a marijuana-like substance that fills your body with the sensation of warmth. Since it's only known to grow in Skandia, where it's Winter pretty much all year round, it is very easy to get addicted to. Once it happens, you gradually lose sense of who you were, forget those closest to you, etc., until you become an Empty Shell.
Possibly justified due to Ranger archery training, which could be considered a form of Charles Atlas Superpower. One of the many mantras of the Ranger Corps is ''"An archer practices until he gets it right. A Ranger practices until he never gets it wrong."
Improbable Weapon: The common kitchen wooden ladle is referred to as an unofficial staff of office for both Master Chubb and his apprentice, Jenny.
Improvised Weapon: Jenny takes down three robbers with a roasting pan, a rolling pin, several knives and a leg of lamb.
In the Hood: ("And then he drew back into the bushes and pulled his hood over his eyes, blending in so as to be invisible..." Every other damn chapter.)
Instant Waking Skills: The Rangers do this, but it is highly stressed that they aren't at full 'alertness' yet.
Istanbul Not Constantinople: Araluen = England, Gallica = France, Celtica = Wales, Hibernia = Ireland, Picta = Scotland, Teutlandt = Germany, Arrida = North Africa (likely Tripoli), Skandia = Scandinavia, Nihon-Ja = Japan, Iberion = Spain, Toscana = Rome/Italy, the unnamed Temujai country, referred to as the Eastern Steppes = Mongolia (Genghis Khan's name was Temujin), Indus (briefly mentioned in Book Ten) probably = India, etc. A map appears in later books that is reminiscent of a early map of the Old World. These all really could really be seen just as Fantasy Counterpart Cultures.
Magic Realism: The only supernatural elements in the series are Lord Morgarath's armies and the...spirit...thing that Will encounters in "Halt's Peril".
Man in a Kilt: A non-Fanservice-y example is General Mac Haddish of the Scotti Army in Book 6. Generally, the male populace of the country of Picta.
Meaningful Name: The surname Will is given at his Ranger ceremony is Treaty, in honour of the peace treaty he negotiated with the Skandians, which would be a very important milestone in Araluan history.
Must Have Caffeine: Will, Gilan, and to a lesser extent, Horace are all huge fans of coffee. Halt also loves coffee, but doesn't show it much, being The Stoic. With honey, no less.
Depending on the book, that is. Sometimes Halt uses honey; other times he claims it's a "perfect way to ruin good coffee".
In book 12, Will and Gilan barely even consider the chances of Madelyn becoming a ranger until she takes a liking to coffee.
No Arc in Archery: Subverted. The books describe how the Rangers and other archers have to angle their shots upward to account for gravity acting on the arrow. One time Will "misses" * injures rather than killing his target an almost-impossible-except-for-a-Ranger longshot because he forgot that the bow he was using would have more drop-off than he was used to.
One Riot, One Ranger: the series actually uses this phrase to describe the kingdom's group of elite archers, spies, and tacticians. It's not exactly wrong, considering this happens several times during the series.
Only a Flesh Wound: Horace receives minor injuries multiple times, and is mostly able to shrug them off and continue fighting. Examples are during the storm of Macindaw, the final fight in Erak's ransom and others.
Subverted cruelly in Halt's Peril where Halt's minor wound turns nearly deadly due to poison.
Also subverted in Royal Ranger: Madelyn is completely incapacitated by a javelin in her thigh, even though it misses anything important.
Only One: Halt and his apprentices are perhaps the only Rangers to have ever accomplished anything in the history of Araluen.
The Lost Stories also gives a hint why: King Duncan's father practically destroyed the Ranger Corps due to Morgarath's shenaniangs. Most Rangers are hardly more experienced than Will, without his advantage of being personally trained by Halt. Heck, he, Crowley, and a few other Rangers re-founded the Ranger Corps!
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Cassandra, and how. Madelyn takes it a step further by becoming the first female ranger though she isn't a royal when it happens
Running Gag: A minor one where everyone (except Alyss) calls Will's mandola (a stringed instrument similar to a lute) a lute.
Sapient Steed / Bond Creatures: Ranger horses can't speak (because they're horses), but it has been shown several times that they all have human-level intelligence. Will's horse, Tug, in particular, has mastered the art of "saying something with a look".
One of the short stories reveals that it's all in their heads, somehow.
Zig-zagged in the twelfth book. The newest Ranger Apprentice, Maddie, immediately bonds with her Ranger horse, Bumper. Bumper "comments" on Maddie's shock that such a barrel-shaped little pony could go so fast. She asks Will about whether the Ranger horses can "talk" or not, and Will dismisses the notion as ridiculous...while silently marveling at the fact that Maddie can already understand her horse.
Scarily Competent Tracker: This is the entire point of the Rangers, though the author does try to make them as realistic as possible.
The Theme Park Version: A distinct feature of the series is the idealism. The Middle Ages setting apparently has gender equality, no racism, and slavery can be abolished by asking nicely.
It wasn't so much asking nicely as it was "You need the slaves to fight for you if you're going to have any chance of defending against the massive Temujai army. They're not going to fight for you unless you give them what they want: their freedom."
And slavery wasn't totally abolished. Later on Will gives Buttle to Skandians as slave.
Time Skip: A pretty long one between the events of Book 10 and Book 12. For example, Cassandra and Horace now have a 15-year-old daughter named Madelyn. Other notable events include Crowley dying in his sleep of old age, Gilan becoming the new Ranger Corps Commandant, Halt retiring from the Ranger Corps, and the most shocking thing, Alyss dying in an inn fire, trying to save a child trapped inside.
To Be a Master: Every one of the young characters in his own profession: Will as a ranger, Horace as a knight, Alyss as a diplomat - and Cassandra as a ruler.
Villain Decay: The Mongols Temujai go from "Holy Shit, an army of soldiers where Halt came from!!" when hinted in the first book to mooks on horseback, after they are shot down by the platoon by previously weed-addicted peasants with a few weeks of training. Every last one of their efforts in Book Four are neatly countered before they can be used to any advantage, thanks to the power of Rangers, Luck, and Rangers.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Will and Horace still argue a bit after becoming friends. Particularly Horace, who loves the fact that he can suddenly make winning points in the argument. Of course, they are a much more mild example than most.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Will lives for Halt's approval. Of course, as lampshaded near the end of Erak's Ransom, this sort of thing happens to nearly everyone who works with Halt.
It is mentioned in later books that both Will and Halt see their relationship as essentially that of father and son.
In Book Seven, it's shown that Will would literally rather die of thirst, having gotten hopelessly lost in the desert, than disappoint Halt.
"[Will] wondered briefly if the map Selethen had given him had been false and remembered that thought occurring to him during the preceding day. But he dismissed it almost immediately. Selethen was an honorable man, he thought. No, the map was accurate. The mistake had been his and now he would never know what it had been. Halt would be disappointed, he thought—and perhaps that was the worst aspect of this situation. For five years, he had tried his best for the grizzled, unsmiling Ranger who had become like a father to him. All he ever sought was Halt's approval, no matter what anyone else in the world might think. A nod of appreciation or one of Halt's rare smiles was the greatest accolade he could imagine. Now, at this final hurdle, he had let his mentor down and he didn't know how or why it had happened. He didn't want to die knowing that Halt would be disappointed with him. He could bear the dying, he thought, but not the disappointment."