The outcast. This is what Hal has been considiered for many years. His father was a mighty Skandian warrior, one of the best actually, but died in battle. Hal is fatherless and to top it all off his mother is Aarluen making him half Skandian and half Aarluen. He's constantly teased because of his size. Hal learns too acknowledge that size isn't what matters the most. Thorn, a friend of Hal's father, looks after the undersized boy, and teaches him what being a Skandian is all about. Soon afterwards the Brotherband training starts, which is a training program for young boys to teach them all there is too know about being a warrior. Every year, 3 brotherbands are formed, and they select a leader. This year only 2 leaders are selected and the 8 boys who aren't chosen form a brotherband. These boys are known as outcasts for various reasons yet together they form a long-lasting relationship and work together. Hal learns the difficulties of being a leader, with his intelligence and skill, him and his group might just have a chance at winning the competitions between the brotherbands! Meanwhile, a ship arrives at Hallasholm, the Capitol of Skandia, claiming they needed repairs for their ship. Yet the Oberjal doubts that this is their real motives and must find out what they are up too before it's too late!
In many ways, this adventure is what I've always dreamed about. For me a "school" where you'd learn combat skills is genius! I loved how Hal never won any competition with strength. Also I enjoyed how the competitions varied altogether and that you never knew who would win. You kind of had to evaluate the teams skill overall and predict which team would be better for which competition, in other words it felt like I was watching a sports game on Television. Very unsual right? The characters were easy to enjoy. They were simple yet had something special. Most of them had various flaws but could counter them somehow. First they had to learn how to do so. The characters relationships towards each other were somewhat predictable but none of the less they were present, which made the book all the more enjoyable. The flow was good, it could maybe had a few improvements here and there, but I liked the points of views. In many books there are just too many that are too long. And usually I enjoy one character much more than the others. In this novel John Flanagan clearly understood the concept of keeping his readers on board!
I thought that the part with Zavac a bit out of the blue. It might have been necessary for the next books but I didn't enjoy those parts and wanted to get back to the brotherband training. Also, it's a bit odd that the Oberjal doesn't have more guards and couldn't just stop Zavac and his small crew. Also, I'm a small fan of a bit of romance in my books, and I was very disappointed when they didn't elaborate on Hal's relationship with Lotte. They were only mentioned twice and it wasn't much. I didn't enjoy the idea of the books surrounded by a boat theme really, but even I who hasn't even been on a boat I could follow really easily.
I would really recommend this book, if you have read the Rangers Apprentice series and are doubting to get this book, I suggest you do so. I was skeptical about it at first, but I learned soon enough not to have any prejudice.