The Battle of Hackham Heath: Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Battle of Hackham Heath: Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years, Book 2 Book Poster Image
More excitement and battle violence as series hits stride.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Types of armor and weaponry, the kind you'd find in Arthurian times, are discussed at length. Battle tactics are discussed, then thoroughly vetted.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about loyalty, bravery, teamwork, what makes a true leader, and developing the necessary skills to survive and conquer your enemies. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Loyalty, bravery, and skill are in abundance among the Rangers, and all those soldiers who follow the king are likewise loyal and valued. In contrast, the bad guy, Morgarath, is shown manipulating his beast-soldiers and not valuing their lives. Used to more solitary lives, Rangers must band together here and fight as a team. Crowley and Halt remain stalwart characters who become strong leaders in this book.

Violence

Battle violence with arrows, "saxes" (Old English for "knives"), swords, throwing knives, charging horses, fire. Many deaths with bodies littering the battlefield, mostly beast warriors called Wargals described as a cross between an ape and a bear. The Wargals are mind-controlled into fighting, making their substantial losses sadder. Masses of blood pool on the ground, and there are some gory moments including a sword strike that almost takes off a head and a person dragged by the ankle into a group of Wargals and then beaten to death. A woman dies after a difficult pregnancy and childbirth. A band of thieves is stripped naked and tied up, then left in the woods. Talk of how an infant lost his father as a hero in battle, then his mother in a home robbery.

Sex
Language

Just one "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine and ale at a party for adults; a king drinks wine with lunch.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that John Flanagan's The Battle of Hackham Heath is the second book in a Ranger's Apprentice prequel series. You can read the prequel series without reading the main series first, but readers who have read the original series will feel more drawn into this medieval-style world, where highly skilled fighters called Rangers are called on to protect a king. In Book 2, the usually solitary Rangers must fight alongside the king in a number of battles against a rogue baron named Morgarath and his band of Wargals -- creatures that look like a cross between apes and bears. Because of that, expect much more violence than in the first book, The Tournament at Gorlan. Battle violence is with arrows, "saxes" (Old English for "knives"), swords, throwing knives, charging horses, and fire. Many deaths occur with bodies littering the battlefield, mostly the Wargals. Blood pools on the ground and there are some gory moments including a sword strike almost taking off a head and person dragged by the ankle into a group of Wargals and then beaten to death. A woman dies after a difficult pregnancy and childbirth. Readers familiar with either the Ranger’s Apprentice or Brotherband Chronicles series know what to expect out of Flanagan's characters: The good guys are loyal, resourceful, conscientious, born leaders … the list goes on. Think Captain America with a longbow and camouflage gear.

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What's the story?

In THE BATTLE OF HACKHAM HEATH, Halt leaves the Araluen Castle after a festive party celebrating King Duncan's marriage to investigate rumors about the rogue baron Morgarath. After Morgarath suffered defeat at the end of the Tournament at Gorlan, he fled to a nearly impenetrable mountain pass with his followers. An outpost near the pass reported that Morgarath had more than his loyal followers with him: Spotted near the pass were creatures called Wargals that looked like a cross between a bear and an ape. Which wasn't so strange -- they lived in those mountains -- except the normally reclusive and dim-witted creatures were carrying weapons and marching in formation. So Halt goes to check it out in usual stealth-like Ranger fashion. Scaling the side of a cliff, he sees hundreds of Wargals being trained for war. It's a startling discovery backed up by reports coming in from neighboring fiefs about raids by the creatures. Suddenly Morgarath's Wargals are all over Araluen wreaking havoc, and there's no way for Duncan, the new king, to ward off all of them.

Is it any good?

After a slow-moving setup in Book 1 watching the fearless band of Rangers reunite, this sequel gets out the armor, the longbows, and the cavalry for a much livelier, bloodier outing. There's still plenty of careful planning and explanations of battle strategy -- author John Flanagan is a meticulous storyteller who lays out every plan of attack down to exactly where each group of archers will stand -- but this time the payoff is there. The stakes are incredibly high for the soldiers on the good side with far too few to fight the crazy ape-bear beasts set upon them. And the bad guy is pretty darn bad. Morgarath competes with Zavac, the pirate from the Brotherband Chronicles series -- in sheer ruthlessness. With The Battle of Hackham Heath, the Early Years series feels well and truly underway.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about battle violence in The Battle of Hackham Heath. Was it better or worse to read about so many Wargals falling? How was it different from reading about human casualties?

  • What did you learn about armor and battle tactics from this book? How do they differ from modern warfare? How is some of the strategizing the same?

  • If you're a fan of the main Rangers Apprentice series, how do you think this prequel series is stacking up?

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