Lowdown: The further adventures of the boys as their kingdom faces an evil invasion.
The Burning Bridge is the second book in the Ranger’s Apprentice young adult fantasy series. That is, it is the sequel of The Ruins of Gorlan. By now the series includes 11 books with more to come, which sort of tells you what you can expect out of each of its title: a series of adventures and an open ending that leaves the ground fresh for the next sequel.
The Burning Bridge has our hero apprentice, Will, and his master Halt discovering the plans for an invasion to their medieval like kingdom. Through that intelligence the army prepares for the coming attack, while Will is sent in the company of some young colleagues to a side mission of peace. Things go wrong there, though, and in a totally expected manner Will finds out the true secret behind the pending invasion; the question is, will he and his younger colleagues be able to do enough in time?
There can be no denying The Burning Bridge is pulp fiction, a cheap tale of fantasy aimed to entertain but not much else. While Ruins of Gorlan had some good motifs to appeal to a growing up teen looking for their place in the world and shaping their identity, The Burning Bridge feels empty in comparison. It is a tale well told, with multiple narratives handled in parallel to heighten the suspension, but it is a simple swords and sorcery like tale; nothing more and nothing less. I used to consume a lot of these books as a young adult myself, and I’ve enjoyed The Burning Bridge as entertaining easy reading. I can clearly see its appeal.
One thing I did not like about The Burning Bridge are the things it takes for granted. The goodies’ society it portrays is not a democracy; it’s a monarchy. However, with each of the ruling class characters described as essentially flawless in character, the book can easily create the wrong impression with its younger readers as to the virtues of dictatorships. Another thing that’s taken for granted by the goodies is the need to invest in an army and to always defend one’s land, even at times of peace; those that don’t pay a price for their “negligence” in The Burning Bridge. To put it another way, The Burning Bridge seems to have been written by the same school of thought that sees the Aussie taxpayer paying billions for a new fleet of submarines regardless of justification as a positive thing. Again, this is not the example I would like set before young adults: more than anyone else, young adults should be versed on the ways of questioning things older folk take for granted.
Another problem with The Burning Bridge is its ending, which – as expected – leaves the door wide open for a sequel and leaves its reader without the level of closure most of us expect from our books. I have been known to inflict ratings punishments on books that do this to me (see here and here for examples), and The Burning Bridge is no exception. However, The Burning Bridge is definitely better than the two cited examples in the sense that it has an ending in the first place. Which is to say there are different closure levels for a book, and The Burning Bridge just, but just, falls on the side I consider acceptable.
Overall: Trashy, but entertainingly so. With 2.5 out of 5 stars, I expect to read its sequel the next time I’m in the mood for very easy reading.