THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
When the former Baron Morgarath escaped to avoid punishment for treason, an uneasy peace fell on Araluen. But Morgarath, now in hiding, is already planning his next move, recruiting an army of savage, overpowering beasts known as Wargals. Newly crowned King Duncan knows he must prepare for war. To find out the full extent of Morgarath’s plan of attack, Halt prepares for a seemingly impossible task–climbing the deadly cliffs of the Mountains of Rain and Night and venturing deep into enemy territory to spy. After all, the winner of this war could be determined by one wrong move. At the Battle of Hackham Heath, the fate of a Kingdom will be decided. This origin story of how Halt came to be Araluen’s most famous Ranger – and how war will decide the future of the next generation – will thrill Ranger’s Apprentice fans and new readers alike.
Having read all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I was pretty thrilled when The Early Years was announced as a prequel series. I couldn’t wait for the chance to experience all of Will’s wise mentors as inexperienced young adults – especially Halt and Crowley. One of the reasons that I loved the first book, ‘The Tournament at Gorlan’ is because it gave me details about Morgorath’s attempted rise to power that I didn’t know. I knew that ‘The Battle of Hackham Heath’ would be different, and would pose difficulties that other books in the prequel series won’t. Hackham Heath is the battle that every Ranger’s Apprentice fan knows; it was the major battle that drove Morgarath back into the Mountains of Rain and Night, Duncan’s first trial as King, and the indirect cause of Will’s orphaning. It’s the battle and enemy that drives plot points in the early Ranger’s Apprentice books. It’s also the battle that people who have never read Ranger’s Apprentice know nothing about. John Flanagan took on a massive task trying to juggle appeasing current fans and trying to interest new readers, and I have to say that he handled it pretty well.
The weapons used in the battle scenes were realistic and well researched. John Flanagan does an excellent job showing that while Medieval weapons are clunky and ineffective in comparison with modern-day warfare, they were absolutely lethal in their own era. Each weapon had shortcomings as well, and both armies used realistic methods to defend against them. The movements of the two armies were also explained and rationalised to the reader, and you could understand how various situations came about. The characters in ‘The Battle of Hackham Heath’ were relatively well rounded, and I found that they dealt with emotional trauma in realistic ways. There was the usual sarcastic banter that I have come to expect from members of the Ranger Corps, and a few surprise appearances from characters I hadn’t expected to encounter yet. Long-time fans beware: you will imagine characters as their older selves, and you will be thrown when Halt doesn’t have grey hair, and Baron Arald isn’t fat. It’ll happen, trust me.
The only real flaw with ‘The Battle of Hackham Heath’ is a big old plot hole that yawns between the final chapter and the epilogue. It’s the story of Will’s parents’ deaths, and instead of being experienced directly by the reader, as it were, it’s told second hand by Halt to Lady Pauline. If you’re a new reader and you want to read it, get yourself a copy of ‘The Lost Tales’ and read Death of a Hero. I can only assume that ‘The Battle of Hackham Heath’ was already too long, and the chapter was culled because it’s a story that already appears in both ‘The Ruins of Gorlan’ and ‘The Lost Tales’. I found that this broke up the narrative, and left the ending of the book rather disjointed. It also would have been effective to use the chapter as a means of leading into the Ranger’s Apprentice Series.