This most recent addition to the Ranger's Apprentice series actually takes place shortly before the previous two books. Things are in a time of transition as this story opens. Will, about to complete his apprenticeship and receive his silver oakleaf is very apprehensive about going out on his own. But with Halt's impending marriage to Lady Pauline, the time is coming when Will will need to leave the nest. During the festivities, plans are put somewhat on hold, as word comes that Erak, Oberjarl of the Skandians and Araluen's ally has been captured in a foreign land. Now, Will, Horace, Gilan, Halt and Princess Cassandra, aka Evanlyn, must travel to Arridia to pay the ransom. There, they meet Selethen, Wakir and ruler of the area. Unfortunately, the party arrives earlier than expected and Selethen, suspecting deceit has sent Erak to the desert fortress Maradoc. As the group sets out, a terrible sandstorm erupts causing Will to lose hold of Tug. Frightened, the little horse flees becoming lost in the desert. Will, determined to find his friend, sets out alone across the desert, leaving the others to complete the task of retrieving Erak. But Selethen and the group are attacked by the Tualaghi and are imprisoned themselves. Can Will find his horse and reunite with his friends in time to prevent a unfortunate end? Will they be able to free Erak and discover the identity of the Skandian traitor? This book offers a lot of action and an opportunity to see the young ranger Will come into his own. The bestowing of the silver oakleaf at the end of the novel feels like a graduation for the reader, as well. Since this work is a stand alone book, occurring in the time period between the fourth and fifth works, one can almost wish they had been printed in that order, instead of causing the reader to back track in time. An enjoyable read overall.
Contributed by J.R.S.