The Burning Bridge - John Flanagan
Bestial villains, noble knights and deposed despots prepare their forces for impending battle in the first book in the Ranger's Apprentice series by Australian author Flanagan. Fifteen-year-old Will, orphaned as a child, and his close friends anxiously await Choosing Day, when each will be chosen-or not-for apprenticeship in one of several schools. Those not chosen wind up as farm labor to help feed the castledwellers. "It was a fate Will feared more than anything." He entertains notions of entering Battleschool like his classmate-and sometime adversary-Horace. But because of Will's diminutive stature, and a knack for climbing, hiding and all things clandestine, he is instead chosen to be a Ranger, under the tutelage of Halt, who years earlier exiled the evil Morgarath to the land of the Mountains of Rain and Night. As Will learns archery and stealth techniques, he makes peace with Horace (who is being tormented by older classmates at Battleschool), and the two must then travel with a contingent of Rangers and warriors to fight invading, "almost invincible" Kalkara-bearlike assassins sent by Morgarath to kill Halt. On the whole, the story owes much to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Flanagan's Rangers more than recall Tolkien's, and the deposed Morgarath and his inhuman Wargals parallel Saruman and the Orcs a bit too closely. Still, for the uninitiated, this is an exciting tale of battle and honor. Ages 10-up.