Monday, May 06, 2013

The Brotherband Chronicles

Brotherband Chronicles:  The Outcasts
by John Flanagan

You know a book is good when you catch yourself in the middle of a busy day wondering about the main characters and how things are going for them. And I did find myself thinking about the young members of the newest brotherband of Skandia. John Flanagan draws you into his novel with a raid that takes place twelve years before the main storyline; all of which unfolds in the country of Skandia. The band of seawolves have entered the raiding season with a well planed attack that is to take place on the shores of Iberia where they intend to plunder the depository of Santa Sebilla, a rather small town that is renowned for its many artisans and their fine craftsmanship with gold and precious stones. Erak, skirl of the Wolfwind, has little interest in fine jewelry but “was a fervent believer of the principle of redistribution of wealth”! 

However, the raid takes an unexpected turn and we are launched six years into the future where we learn the sad consequences of this ill fated raid and are introduced to 10 yr old Hal and his mother, Karina Mikkelswife, a former Araluen slave.  In just a few pages we are brought into the lives of Hal, Karina and Thorn, as well as a few other minor players whose roles in the novel will increase as the story unfolds.  Flanagan’s novel moves at a fast pace and before we know it Hal is sixteen and we are caught up in his inventions and the continuous improvements he is constantly making to the tools and instruments of his home and village, some of which end  in disaster and land him in his mother’s bad books. However, he has an ardent fan in Thorn who is captured by the ingeniousness of his many inventions and improvements.  Thorn also sees a little of himself in this young adventurer who dares to redesign the sails of his own small ship from the standard rectangle sails to triangles. The day he tests his new sails, he and his crew slip into Skandia’s harbor at a speed and control previously unseen in a wolfship, even one as small and light as Hal’s. At the last minute Hals best friend, Stig, draws Hal’s attention to the fact that they are headed directly for the Oberjarl’s prize vessel.  Hal’s well disguised panic increases tenfold as he catches a glimpse of Skandia’s Oberjarl, Erak, standing on the wharf with his battle ax in hand, ready to damage anyone fool enough to so much as scratch the Wolfwind!

By this time I was well involved in this novel and very invested in knowing what lay in the future of Hal and his crew of misfits as they prepared to participate  in the brotherhood training which every Skandian male embarked on in his 16th year.  It was difficult to put the book down because Flanagan is well able to keep the action and tension flowing, drawing you further and further into the lives & challenges of Hal and his newly formed brotherhood, the Herons.

Clearly the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Skandia is drawn from the history of the Norsemen, providing an entertaining way for teens (and adults too) to take a peek into a time period that is long past.  While there is violence is the book, (Can there be Norsemen and not be violence?) it is not gory or extremely detailed. When the Magyaran pirate Zavac first makes his appearance, one portion of the battle that ensues is described as; "The deck ran red with their blood and the Skandians trod them underfoot...." and later "the ax smashed the blade in half, then cut deep into the man's shoulder.... Vaguely, he sensed he was on the edge of madness - the beserker's rage that sometimes overtook Skandian warriors at the height of a battle." This is as detailed and bloody as any battle scene gets. I would allow my 12 or 13 year old read this book and it certainly is well within the reading level of a middle school level reader.
I’m looking forward to continuing on with the series so that I can learn more about the second plot that Flanagan craftily weaves into the main story line and finally erupts into the basis for the next book in the Brotherhood Chronicles - spoiler alert The Invaders. I will let you know if I find the rest of the series as enthralling as the first book was. 

Published by Philomel Books, this book is available in many forms; as hardback and paperback it can be purchased here, here and here. It is also available via iTunes, the kindle and the nook. Or, you can do like we did and check a copy out of your local library. However, this is a series worth collecting esp. if you have readers coming on up through the years.