The Burning Bridge, by John Flanagan, was published in 2005 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Ruins of Gorlan.
For years, the Kingdom of Araluen has prospered, with the evil Lord Morgarath safely behind the impassable mountains. For years, its people have felt secure. But the scheming hand of the dark lord has not been idle… On special mission for the Rangers, Will and his friend Horace, an apprentice knight, travel to a neighboring village and discover the unsettling truth: All the villagers have been either slain or captured. But for what purpose? Could it be that Morgarath has finally devised a plan to bring his legions over the supposedly insurmountable pass? If so, the king’s army is in imminent danger of being crushed in a fierce ambush. And Will and Horace are the only ones who can help them.
The Burning Bridge loses some of the supernatural, tropeish vibes that The Ruins of Gorlan contained and gains some of the things the Ranger’s Apprentice series is known for: detailed descriptions of fighting, underdogs, and wit. Flanagan loves the underdog and he writes underdogs well. One of my favorite things about this series is the immense amount of “thinking outside of the box” that the characters display at critical times. There’s also a fair bit of “let’s successfully use this thing I just learned in new ways to become even cooler” but not so much here as in future books. The fighting descriptions never get old, either; sometimes detailed descriptions such as the ones in this book can make a fight feel mechanical or as if you’re inputting directions for a video game or something, but Flanagan somehow makes everything flow as well as describe one heck of a fight, at least for me.
The Wargals are just as groan-inducing as they were in the first book, but at least Flanagan tries to show more of what exactly they are (and, later, does away with things like that entirely) and how they operate. Morgarath is also fleshed out a little bit, although he’s so obviously “dark magic evil lord” when he appears that it’s hard to take seriously. The other characters, however, are great, and even prodigy Horace has enough flaws to make him not-so-perfect. Flanagan does a good job of making sure his talented teenage protagonists screw up and make mistakes like, well, teenagers.
I do think the first two books are the weakest in the series, but The Burning Bridge does a lot to back off of what I thought was a shamefully bad fantasy vibe in The Ruins of Gorlan and shows even more of what I love about the Ranger’s Apprentice series, which is its attention to detail, the crazy things the characters have to overcome and what they accomplish, and its fantastic wit and humor.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“I was more interested in the life the Rangers led. After Hackham Heath, my father and halt had become good friends and Halt used to come visiting. I’d see him come and go. So mysterious. So adventurous. I started to think what it might be like to come and go as you please. To live in the forests. People know so little about Rangers, it seemed like the most exciting thing in the world to me.”
Horace looked doubtful. “I’ve always been a little scared of Halt,” he said. “I used to think he was some kind of sorcerer.”
Will snorted in disbelief. “Halt? A sorcerer?” he said. “He’s nothing of the kind!”
Horace looked at him, pained once again. “But you used to think the same thing!” he said.
“Well…I suppose so. But I was only a kid then.”
“So was I!” replied Horace, with devastating logic.