John Flanagan, The Caldera (Brotherband #7), Random House Australia, 30 Oct 2017, 432pp., $18.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780857980137
As a younger child myself, The Rangers’ Apprentice was one of my favourite series, and when John Flanagan released Brotherband as a new series, I loved it. Sadly, over the years I’ve been drawn away from his books, but reading the series again for review has reminded me of just how much I love his work. The Caldera is the conclusion to the Brotherband series, being the seventh book. Continuing to follow Hal’s journey in his wolfship with all of his ‘brotherband’ members, the Caldera delved further into Stig, Hal’s first mate, and his background which was an interesting change. Old and new characters reemerged throughout the book, and, as always, a villain and rescue scenario featured.
For those who have never read the series, Brotherband revolves around the adventures of Hal Mikkelson, one of the youngest and (arguably) the most talented ship’s captain in Skandia. Following the trials of his wolfship and ‘brotherband’, a group of individually talented individuals and once misfits within their society like Hal, the books follow their journeys near and far, with daring rescues, sea battles, and the always present humour and friendship.
One of my favourite elements about the books is their individual genre. Although the lands and characters may be entirely fictional and fantastical, rather than elaborating on and emphasizing the mystical and magical (as is seen more prominently in The Rangers’ Apprentice series), I find Brotherband to be much more down to earth. Whilst the sea battles are indeed epic and the rescues are daring and nail-bitingly close at every twist and turn, a lot of the book’s emphasis points are quite different. The glossary at the front proves this- rather than glossing over the aspects of ships and seamanship as another book might, a full ship glossary can be found in the book, and details of the working of the ship are evident throughout the whole series. An emphasis on each character throughout each book is also something quite different- where other series may develop each character throughout every book, in Brotherband, emphasis is generally placed upon one character for the duration of the book (with Stig becoming the main focus in the Caldera, as previously mentioned).
As always, individuality took a huge part centre-stage in the novel. Hal’s ingenious, specially-designed ship the Heron against the ‘normal’ ships, Hal and his motley crew against the ‘normal captains’- and yet the prevalence of the brotherband against all opponents clearly presents the morals found within the other six books of the series. The bittersweet ending was also a satisfactory change from the stereotypical ‘happy-ever-after’ of so many children’s books these days.
Overall, I loved reentering John Flanagan’s world in The Caldera. As always, reading the whole series from start to end (beginning with The Outcasts) provides the best experience, with full understanding of each character and the complex relationships developed across the span of each novel. It was, however, certainly easy enough for me to pick up the seventh book with my only prior knowledge being that of the first three books, read multiple years prior (and thus no doubt meaning that I entered into my read with a lot of details missing!). The short story at the end of the book (comprising close to one fifth of the book) was also something different- following on from the final Rangers’ Apprentice book, the story bridges the gap between that and the new series coming in 2018.
An awesome series with great characters, well-developed plots, and a highly satisfactory conclusion!
Reviewed by Amy Cooper
- Read a review of The Ghostfaces (Brotherband #6)
- Read a review of The Tournament at Gourlan (Ranger’s Apprentice: the early years #1) and another, and a review of The Battle at Hackham Heath (Ranger’s Apprentice: the early years #2)