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Top 100 Children’s Novels #69:The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

#69 The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (2006)
28 points

This is by far the most popular series at my campus and has been for the past couple of years–boys and girls alike enjoy it. – Jerry Jarrell

Wow! Did NOT see that one coming! Here we have a series that is hugely popular in my own library system yet isn’t discussed much at all in the children’s literary circles.  This Australian series of books is sold worldwide and makes a good pick for reluctant boy readers.  Little wonder when you consider its origins.

The description from Kirkus reads, “Sturdily competent fantasy from a veteran Australian screenwriter, this quartet opener introduces five teenaged orphans raised together in the medieval-like kingdom of Araluen, focusing on the apprenticeship of wiry, clever Will to a mysterious scout/spy, and on Will’s changing relations with oversized, rival-later-friend Horace. Though Will’s slight physique keeps him out of Battleschool, his first choice, it turns out to be just the ticket for Ranger work, which combines survival skills and keen powers of observation with the ability to move about unseen. As Will is learning these arts, Horace is finding Battleschool almost more than he can handle, thanks to a trio of particularly brutal bullies—and further afield, evil Lord Morgarath, being bent on conquest, has sent two kalkera, brutish bear/apes, out to assassinate Araluen’s most prominent war leaders.”

The standard story behind the book series is that Flanagan found his inspiration in his own reluctant reader son. In a Washington Post interview he said, “When I was writing advertising, I started doing these as short stories for my 12-year-old son, Mike. He didn’t like reading, and so I based the character on him and did the kinds of things Mike did. He’d stand around, you know, throwing knives at trees for hours. I said, ‘See what you think of this.’ Of course, he recognized that the character was like him and that sort of drew him in and got him reading. Mike was small, and his friends were all bigger and stronger than he, so that’s why I created Will: to show that there’s an advantage to being small and fast and agile. I did about a story a week for 20 weeks, and it got so he’d come in and ask for them, and they made him feel a bit better about himself. I remember, there’s this one part where Will is on a ledge, and suddenly a hand comes out and grabs his wrist. Mike came back and said, ‘That scared me. I didn’t know that could happen when you’re reading.’ So I never changed a comma of that part.”

Booklist praised it for being set in, “a colorful place, threatened by an evil warlord and his fierce minions, but its the details of everyday, but its the details of everyday living and the true-to-life emotions that are memorable.”

SLJ said the, “well-paced plot moves effortlessly toward the climax, letting readers get to know the world and the characters gradually as excitement builds.”

Kirkus was more circumspect in its praise saying, “Flanagan does nothing to boost his typecast characters, familiar themes or conventional, video-game plot above the general run, but readers with a taste for quickly paced adventure with tidy, predictable resolutions (kalkera and bullies vanquished, Will and Horace heroes and buddies) won’t be disappointed.”

Lots of covers abound for the book.  It’s fun to play Guess the Nation of Origin with them:

And, of course, he was interviewed by a spokespuppet. My library appears to be fairly spokespuppet free. Do you think that’s a problem?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. ChrisinNY says

    Wow I have never even heard of this one. Hmm will keep on my informal reluctant reader list.

  2. David Ziegler says

    Hooray! I voted for this last time too, and am very pleased to see it this high. It’s been very popular at the public library where I worked. Thanks for including the Washington Post interview, which I’d missed. I think it’s important to have books that appeal to boys in top 100 lists like this. FYI: Flanagan’s newest series is the Brotherband Chronicles. So far there are two: The Outcasts (2011) and the recently released The Invaders (2012).

  3. A fellow librarian had recommended the audio version of this book, and then I saw it come up on the list with my insider knowledge. 🙂 So I chose it when I finished my last audio. So far, I’m finding it rather predictable, and there are “familiar themes.” But it’s still good. I’m going to keep going. That’s fun knowing the background. (I’m also kind of glad to hear Will and Horace will make up.)

  4. OK, now I’m just embarrassed. I saw this series in a bookstore and without even bothering to read the back cover immediately dismissed it as a knock-off of Lord of the Rings (which, given the “Ranger” right in the title, and the long hooded cloaks, isn’t THAT unreasonable a guess, but still). Now I’m going to have to read them just because I’m so sheepish!


  1. […] The Ruins of Gorlan: The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1 by John Flanagan Philomel, 2005 […]