Saturday, November 19, 2011

John Flanagan's The Outcasts (Book 1 of the Brotherband Chronicles)

The Outcasts: Book 1 of the Brotherhood Chronicles by John Flanagan
Ages 10 and up.
ISBN-10: 0399256199  Hardcover $18.99
Publisher: Philomel (November 1, 2011), 432 pages.

The blurb:
Hal never knew his father.  A Skandian warrior, he died in battle when Hal was a young boy, but his reputation lives on long after death.

Hal, unlike his esteemed father, is an outcast.  In a country that values physical strength over intellect, Hal's ingenuity, and the fact that his mother was an Araluen slave, only serves to set him apart from boys his own age.

The one thing he has in common with his peers? Brotherband training.  Forced to compete in tests of endurance and strength and to learn the skills he needs to become a Skandian warrior, Hal discovers that he's not the only outcast in this land of seafaring marauders.  And that his battle for acceptance has just begun.

I'd loved John Flanagan's Ranger Apprentice series and had high hopes for the first book in his new series, The Outcasts.  This time, Flanagan tells the story of Skanians, a race and culture similar to the Vikings, through the point of view of Hal. Hal's father, Mikkel, was a renowned warrior who had traveled with Erak and was killed in battle while Hal was a very young child.  Mikkel's best friend Thorn promises to look after Mikkel's son and wife.  Hal grew up with his Araluen mother, always a bit of a stranger in his home.  Until he somehow saves the life of Stig, another outsider of sorts.

Stig and Hal become fast friends.  Stig is hotheaded, loyal, and  natural athlete.  Hal is innovative, meticulous, and a careful planner. Together, they make a strong team.  They make friends with other boys. By the time that the boys are of age for the Brotherband training, they're excited and eager to prove themselves.

For Skanians, Brotherband training is a rite of passage and a chance to make a name for themselves.  The year that Hal and Stig participate, there is an unusual number of boys.  Instead of two teams, Erak agrees to create three teams.  The last team is made up of the boys that we're selected by the other leaders - much like those last chosen during gym class but with much higher stakes.  Stig is Hal's loyal lieutenant and Hal agrees to lead the group.  It becomes clear through his carefully thought out decisions that Hal has both the mind and personality to lead by example.  Though their group, the Herons, face groups with greater strength and skill, the competition teaches the boys the power of teamwork and loyalty.

In The Outcasts, John Flanagan gives us another set of heroes to root for and adventures to enjoy.  I loved The Outcasts and am looking forward to the next in the series.  It's a book I'd recommend for young readers and something I think even reluctant reader of a nephew would enjoy.

Ages 10 and up.
ISBN-10: 0399256199  Hardcover $18.99
Publisher: Philomel (November 1, 2011), 432 pages.
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library.

About the Author:
John Flanagan grew up in Sydney, Australia, hoping to be a writer, and after a successful career in advertising and television, he began writing a series of short stories for his son, Michael, to encourage him to read.  These stories would eventually become The Ruins of Gorlan, Book 1 of the Ranger's Apprentice, the international phenomenon that has sold millions of copies and mad readers of kids the world over.
Mr Flanagan lives in the suburb of Manly, Australia, with his wife.  In addition to their son, they have two grown daughters and four grandsons.  You can visit John Flanagan at and at

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