This fantasy adventure is the second book in the "Ranger's Apprentice" series by John Flanagan and is published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
The Burning Bridge is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Sixteen-year-old Will, an apprentice Ranger, lives with his teacher, Halt, and learns the surveillance and battle techniques of the secretive protectors of the kingdom. A banished Baron named Morgarath readies his army of mind-controlled creatures (Wargals) to attack Will and Halt's kingdom, and he ensures that a set of spurious battle plans fall into the Rangers' hands. The King asks Gilan, a Ranger who once served as Halt's apprentice, to enlist the help of the Celts in the conflict. Halt sends Will and Horace (Will's friend and a Battleschool student) to travel with Gilan to Celtica.
Gilan and the boys frequently practice battle maneuvers on their trip. As they proceed farther into Celtica, they find deserted towns where people seem to have left quickly. Gilan and the boys also encounter a young woman named Evanlyn who tells them the Wargals made a surprise attack on the area and are capturing miners. Gilan goes ahead of the group to warn the King, and the boys and Evanlyn travel together. The youths see some Wargals herding a group of miners and beating one to death. Will says they must follow the creatures to learn their plans. They discover Morgarath is using the miners to dig a tunnel and build a bridge that will allow him to move his troops down from the steep terrain of his lair and trap the King's army. Another group called the Skandians is also working on the bridge, which will be completed in a matter of days. Realizing they don't have time to warn the King, Will, Horace and Evanlyn decide their only choice is to burn the bridge to keep the Wargals trapped. Will and Evanlyn successfully destroy the bridge, but a group of Skandians captures them.
Meanwhile, Gilan arrives at the King's camp. The leaders realize that Evanlyn is actually Cassandra, the King's daughter. With the intelligence he and Horace provide, the King's army revises its battle plan. They've nearly captured Morgarath when he surrenders and challenges Halt to a duel. Horace jumps in and challenges Morgarath, who accepts before the King can prevent it. Since the laws of chivalry must be upheld, Morgarath and Horace battle. When Horace has nearly lost, he suddenly defeats Morgarath by using a Ranger technique Gilan taught him early in the trip. When Morgarath dies, the Wargals are free from his mind control and rendered harmless. Halt goes after the Skandians to rescue Will and Evanlyn. He's unable to catch the ship they're on but vows to find and save Will.
Morgarath is only concerned about his own plans and desires. He leads his army of Wargals by controlling their minds, and he brutalizes his underlings. Halt, a rough-around-the-edges Ranger, serves not only as a mentor but also as a father figure to Will. Halt's former apprentice, Gilan, also takes Will and his friend Horace under his wing. He provides the boys with intensive training, even teaching Horace the moves that allow him to destroy Morgarath. The King fights on the battlefield alongside his men, refusing to let his concern for his daughter's life keep him from leading his troops.
Other Belief Systems
Celts superstitiously won't meet with messengers in a timely manner unless three of them come together. Will says it would be bad luck if his rumbling stomach let his enemies know he was there. Halt feels a cold hand of premonition clutch his heart when he gets a message about the war. Sir Montague, a rogue ruler, treats Will's friend Alyss badly when she's sent to give him a message. He rails on her and her teacher, Lady Pauline, and says women are only good for cooking and raising children. Villagers think Rangers are sorcerers because they can hide themselves so well. Gilan says Halt does have a way of knowing things, so maybe he's a kind of sorcerer in his own way.
Several dozen uses of swear words like d--n, h--- and the Lord's name in vain appear. There are also single uses of mild words such as darn and where the devil. The book includes a number of fight scenes, though most describe the warriors' movements rather than the injurious results. Several mildly gory scenes depict Wargals beating and bloodying miners, Will being bloodied and knocked unconscious by a Skandian and Morgarath whipping his bugler until blood pours down the man's forehead and into his eye.
Will thinks about a time Alyss kissed him. Alyss kisses Halt twice on the cheek, once for himself and once for Will.
Children's Book Council of Australia, 2006; and others
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What kind of relationships did Will and Horace have with their mentors?
Why are these ties particularly important in light of the boys' pasts?
- Why did Halt and Gilan feel it was important for Will to get back to work after his terrifying confrontation with Wargals?
What does Gilan tell Will about self-doubt?
How can it become self-fulfilling?
In what areas of life do you feel fear or self-doubt?
How can you use these circumstances to make you stronger rather than bring you down?
- How did Will and Horace get caught unprepared by the thieves in Celtica?
What was their critical mistake?
How does this situation mirror the behavior of the kingdom as a whole?
Why have the citizens grown complacent?
Can you identify any areas in your life where you might be caught unprepared if you let your guard down?
What steps can you take to avoid this?
How can you remain alert and focused?
- Why didn't Halt or the King stop Morgarath from fighting Horace?
What is chivalry, and why did these men uphold its codes so fiercely?
What sort of "rules" exists in modern wars or conflicts?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.