Book Review: “Bridle the Wind” by Joan Aiken

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Bridle the Wind
by Joan Aiken

This second adventure of post-Napoleonic, English-Spanish boy-hero Felix Brooke picks up soon after Go Saddle the Sea ends. On his way home from England to Spain, after discovering his rich English grandfather and realizing that he wants to live with his slightly less rich Spanish grandfather after all, Felix is shipwrecked near a French monastery. A profoundly weird, supernatural occurrence sends him clean out of his senses soon afterward.

When he returns to himself months later, Felix has been living as a mute novice in the monastery, ruled by an abbot who himself is ruled by a terrifying, evil spirit. Now that he can speak, the abbot wants to question him about things Felix cannot remember, and punishes him viciously for not answering. Then an overpowering premonition leads Felix to save the life of a frail, mysterious boy named Juan — a boy whose fate is now caught between the increasingly irrational abbot and a band of brigands called the Mala Gente.

In a hair-raising nighttime escape, Felix rescues Juan and himself from the monastery, only to find himself committed to a perilous journey through the sharp Pyrenees, pursued by brigands and things worse than brigands. Everywhere they flee, everywhere they try to hide, the Mala Gente stick uncannily one step behind…and sometimes ahead! Mystery unfolds within mystery as Felix’s strength, courage, and resourcefulness are tested to their limit, and his deepening relationship with the strange boy Juan is not the least of the mysteries.

This 19th-century road adventure through Southern France and Northern Spain is full of music, poetry, and fascinating facets of history and folklore. It also has strong characters whose quest builds to a terrifying climax and ends with a staggering surprise. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, the conclusion of this book will guide your hand directly to the third book in the trilogy, The Teeth of the Gale.