Yes, part 1. I'm not crazy enough to think I can manage to review the entirety of this AMAZINGLY AWESOME SERIES THAT YOU HAVE TO READ RIGHT NOW in just one blog post.
Before I get started, a few housekeeping notes. I'm not going to be able to write these posts without giving any spoilers. It's just not possible. But I'm going to try to make it easy for you to skip them if you so choose. Rather than just writing "spoiler" in red (because there are bound to be an inordinate amount of spoilers), I'm going to make anything I (or my mom or sisters) consider spoilery the color of the background. If you want to read it, highlight the text and it will appear.
This is the book that started it all. Will, an orphan in the ward at Redmont fief, wants to be a knight. He wants to go to Battleschool more than anything. His fellow wardmate Horace is even chosen to go to Battleschool. But Will is too small. He is chosen to train as a Ranger. "Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people."—from John Flanagan's website. They're amazingly good at archery, riding, unseen movement, silent movement, strategy, and they're quite addicted to coffee, though that doesn't come in for several books. They each protect a fief in the kingdom of Araluen, but the Ranger Corp is an organization unto itself that answers only to the king, not to the fief's baron. However, Ranger Halt and Baron Arald of Redmont fief are good friends, and also good friends of King Duncan. And Halt is an especially good friend of Redmont's Courier, Pauline, just as Will is good friends with Pauline's new apprentice and his former wardmate Alyss.
Now, it may come as a shock that I didn't absolutely love the first book. It was interesting and I liked it, sure, but I wasn't nearly as invested as I am now. Other people have gotten hooked on the series with the first book, like a little girl at the library who went to a Ranger's Apprentice themed horse camp where they introduced her to the series, and now she's devouring them. It's a good setup for the series. It establishes quite well most of the major players in the series (a few don't come in until book 2, though), and creates long lasting friendships. And Will performs his first significant act of the series, in a fight against evil former baron of Gorlan, Morgarath. But now, Will getting his first Ranger horse. It happens to them all and it never gets old.
Morgarath has been trapped behind impassable mountains for years, but now it appears he may be devising a plan to attack Araluen at last. Will, Horace, and Halt's former apprentice Gilan set out on a mission and discover Morgarath's evil deeds.
I liked this one better than the first. Will, Horace, and Gilan are pretty awesome together, like when Gilan's teaching them the two knife defense against a sword and they create a scenario where a Ranger is facing an opponent with a battleax, is backed up against a cliff, and his bowstring is broken. "Jump. It'll be less messy that way." Another key character is introduced in this book: Evanlyn, also known as Princess Cassandra. Also introduced is Erak, the Skandian, who is basically a viking. You wouldn't think from the circumstances Erak would be a good character, but he actually turns out to be quite awesome. Halt throws people into moats, even though Pauline doesn't exactly approve—hey, Alyss suggested it the second time!—a bridge gets burned, Horace kills Morgarath, and Will and Evanlyn are kidnapped as slaves. And there it ends!
This is where I got totally, irrevocably, forevermore hooked on this series. Will and Evanlyn are sold into slavery in Skandia. King Duncan can't send Halt after them for internal danger issues, so Halt publicly insults the king, and his treasonous behavior gets him banished from Araluen. Halt takes Horace with him to rescue Will and Evanlyn.
And WILL GETS ADDICTED TO WARMWEED AND HE'S NOT HIMSELF AND IT'S JUST TERRIBLE AND AAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!! That's how I got hooked on the series. It tore out my heart and I just can't. But Halt and Horace together are totally awesome. The humor. And there's this really terrible, unbelievably awful guy they run into that does some really horrendous, unforgivable things just to get a reaction and AAAHHHH!!!! But this is where Horace starts to be called the Oakleaf Knight, and honestly, it's the most appropriate thing ever because he spends just as much time hanging out with Rangers as he does in Battleschool. (The Rangers all wear oakleaves: bronze for apprentices, silver for active Rangers, gold for retired ones.) Though at first Halt thought maybe he'd said "Oak Pancake." XD And I believe it's this book where it's said Will started the honey-in-coffee thing, though in later books, Halt's the one who started it and passed it on to his apprentices and Horace.
This battle gave me such bad writer envy. Seriously. Next time I need to write a battle I need to reread it and The Siege of Macindaw. People are captured and Will, Halt, and Horace are finally reunited, and the Temujai are attacking Skandia, and goodness gracious, that battle! Only Will's siege tops it.
There's Halt and Horace's "what" exchange, the Vallasvow against the royal family of Araluen, Halt's stash of forged seals, Erak being Erak—sounding like a bear crashing in the forest and causing problems with it, awesome battle strategy, Will being amazing, Horace being amazing, Halt being amazing, Evanlyn being amazing. And then Erak is elected Oberjarl and so now there can be a treaty between Skandia and Araluen, which is great, and later the reason for Will's last name. It's great. Though I have a hard time remembering what was in #3 and what was in #4. They kinda run together.