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Book Review

The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in “The Trials of Apollo” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Former god Apollo was reunited with his friend Meg while he was searching for the oracle in Indianapolis. She agrees to help him complete the rest of his quest, which involves freeing all of the ancient sources of prophecy from the control of the Triumvirate — a group of three ancient Roman emperors who have been plotting for centuries to overthrow the gods.

The prophecy that Apollo and Meg received in Indianapolis instructs them to travel west through a magical maze called the Labyrinth. A satyr will be their guide, and he will help them find the next oracle. So when a satyr called Grover Underwood arrives at the Waystation, Apollo and Meg immediately enlist his help.

Despite the instructions to follow a satyr guide, Grover doesn’t know exactly where to go, and the three friends end up wandering through the Labyrinth for several days. Grover eventually begins to sense where the Labyrinth is leading them. Unfortunately the path leads them to an army of murderous birds called Strixes. Meg manages to block the path by growing a thick patch of strawberries from floor to ceiling in the tunnel via plant magic. This only leaves the friends access to one exit from the Labyrinth, however, so they head up to the surface.

To Grover’s surprise, the Labyrinth has brought him back to the base that he has been working out of for the past year in Southern California. He believes that the fires and droughts in California have a more sinister and possibly magical source than mortals understand. Grover and his team of dryads, nymphs and satyrs have been attempting to find and counteract this source. They chose this particular site because it held traces of strong nature magic despite the only remaining structures being a cistern and a few small green houses.

Grover explains that the greenhouses are full of plant dryads that go dormant during the day to avoid the heat and drought but will emerge in the evening. Meg is distraught that the maze has brought them to this ruined building. The home is called Aeithales, and Meg grew up there with her father before they moved to New York and he was murdered by Nero.

Meg eventually confides in Apollo, explaining that she was too young to fully understand, but that her father was working on an important project involving seven glowing seeds when he received a packet of yellow papers that greatly upset him. He and Meg fled the house, and she remembers seeing it go up in flames behind them.

Meg, Apollo and Grover have a meeting with the dryads once they wake up. The dryads explain that part of the Labyrinth has been burning and that they believe it to be the source of California’s drought and fires. They have been sending scouting parties into the maze, but none have ever returned. They suspect that the third member of the Triumvirate, Caligula, who is based in Southern California, may have somehow caused the maze to burn.

Since Apollo had dreamed that the oracle was chained in a burning prison, they conclude that all of their problems must be connected. Apollo decides that they should attempt to free the oracle first, hoping that she can offer guidance about how to defeat Caligula and restore the maze. The dryads also mention that two demigods named Piper and Jason attempted to find the oracle and managed to make it out of the maze alive, so Meg, Grover and Apollo decide to visit the demigods and see if they have any useful information.

When they arrive at Piper’s house, the three friends are shocked to find Piper and her dad, famous movie star Tristan McLean, packing their belongings to move to Oklahoma. Piper explains that the Triumvirate’s business front had paid her dad’s accountant to give him bad financial advice. The McLeans have lost everything and are moving to Oklahoma to be with family. Meg sees yellow Triumvirate Holdings envelopes on the McLeans’ desk and realizes that Caligula must have driven her and her father out of their home as well.

Piper tells them that she didn’t see much of the maze before being driven out by the spreading fire. She got separated from Jason near the entrance of the maze, however, so she doesn’t know exactly what he found inside of it. She suspects that he wasn’t completely honest with her and believes he may have found the oracle, though he refused to tell her. She offers to take Grover, Apollo and Meg to the entrance of the maze, and they borrow a car to drive to downtown Los Angeles.

Piper takes them to the entrance, and they sneak past a guard stationed there by Caligula. They don’t make it far, however, before they encounter a witch named Medea. She thanks Piper for bringing Apollo to her, commenting that it will make her job so much easier. She plans to extract the remaining divine essence from Apollo and combine it with the essence of the former sun god, Helios. Helios had faded from memory centuries before, and Apollo had succeeded him as the sun god.

Caligula wanted Medea to combine the essences of the two gods and infuse them into him, so he could become the new god of the sun. Helios, however, is no longer a god, but simply a semiconscious, fiery force. His presence in the maze is causing the surface of California to burn. Medea is able to control him to an extent, but it requires a great deal of concentration.

Apollo, Meg, Piper and Grover escape back the way they’ve entered by dividing her attention. Medea taunts them, however, saying they will only be able to find the oracle if she allows them to or if they have access to Caligula’s enchanted shoes. She mentions that Jason only found the oracle because she allowed him to and that the prophecy he received is slowly driving him mad.

Apollo and his friends return to Aeithales to rest. They decide to go visit Jason at his boarding school the next day. They hope that his prophecy might help them find Caligula’s base. They also want to ask for his help locating and stealing Caligula’s shoes.

When they find Jason, he agrees to help, but confides to Apollo that the prophecy stated that if Jason and Piper faced Caligula, one of them would die. He was not planning to tell Piper. Instead, he was waiting until she moved to Oklahoma before seeking Caligula by himself. Then he’d be the one who died rather than her. Apollo convinces Jason that he needs to tell Piper the truth and that she has the right to make her own decision. After talking, Jason, Piper, Apollo and Meg decide to find Caligula together, despite the consequences.

They discover the location of Caligula’s base from the prophecy, but when they arrive, they are surprised to discover that his base is actually a fleet of yachts. They have no way of knowing where Caligula or his shoes are in the fleet. They commandeer a Coast Guard ship and begin searching, starting in the middle of the fleet. Soon they discover which boat Caligula is on, as well as which boat his shoes are on, by eavesdropping on some of his guards. Unfortunately, the two boats are in opposite directions, so they decide to split up with Apollo and Piper searching for the shoes, and Jason and Meg planning to confront Caligula and defeat him once and for all.

Apollo and Piper find the shoes on a boat dedicated entirely to the emperor’s footwear, and Apollo stashes them in his quiver. Before they can escape, however, one of Caligula’s highest-ranking officials, who happens to be a talking horse, finds them in the boat and captures them. He mentions that Jason and Meg have already been captured and that they will all be escorted to Caligula’s throne room.

Caligula greets the four adventurers. Medea, who plans to begin extracting Apollo’s divine essence immediately, is also with him. Once reunited, the four friends are able to fight their way free, but Jason is mortally wounded in the process. Before he dies, he is able to summon a cloud spirit to carry his friends to safety. Once they land, Piper sends the spirit back to retrieve Jason’s body.

Piper, distraught over Jason’s death, refuses to help Apollo and Meg any further. Apollo and Meg return to Aeithales to rest before attempting to enter the maze again. While there, one of the dryads approaches Meg and gives her the glowing seeds that she remembers her father working to cultivate.

The dryad explains that they have been protecting the seeds and waiting for her or her father to return. The seeds were her father’s attempts to reincarnate the oldest and most powerful dryads — a grove of ash trees called the silver wives. Meg plants the seeds before she and Apollo leave for the maze.

They reenter the maze, but with Caligula’s sandals they are guided safely through the maze via a series of word puzzles. They finally arrive at the oracle’s prison. She is surrounded by a river of lava and chained to a rock wall. She is only able to speak in riddles and word puzzles but is able to guide them across the river.

Suddenly Medea enters the chamber behind Apollo and Meg. Meg quickly attempts to free the oracle by slicing her chains off with a sword. The chains immediately attach themselves to Apollo.

Once Apollo is chained, Medea attempts to extract Apollo’s godly essence. Meg attempts to use nature magic to summon help, but she worries that they are too far underground for any dryads to hear her. The oracle tells Apollo to resist Medea’s attempts to dissolve him, and he realizes that he must leverage the fact that he took the oracle’s place and rely on his prophetic powers.

Apollo speaks a prophecy, which is able to momentarily disrupt Medea’s spell and delays her long enough for help to arrive. Meg’s nature song summoned the silver wives, accompanied by Piper. The silver wives had already sprouted into small trees since Meg had planted them.

Piper and the silver wives are able to kill Medea and free Apollo. Apollo is able to speak to the essence of Helios and convince him to leave the maze and allow his spirit to rest. The silver wives escort Meg, Apollo and the oracle back to the surface.

The oracle decides to make her home in Aeithales, where the silver wives and other dryads will protect her. The silvers wives are charged with guarding all of Southern California from the Triumvirate and other threats to nature. Meg and Apollo work to interpret the new prophecy and conclude that it is sending them to the Roman demigod camp, New Rome. Meg hopes to return home to Aeithales someday, but Apollo’s quest is not over yet.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

This story is set in a world where Greek and Roman gods (and gods from other pagan religions) exist and are active in the modern world. Apollo is a god that fell from Olympus and lost his immortality and godly powers. Apollo is a bit disgruntled that the sun and the rest of the cosmos keep turning without him. He states that the sun will always rise and set, and day and night will continue no matter who is driving the sun chariot.

Apollo explains that the biggest threat to the gods is being forgotten and fading out completely. The gods are sustained by human myth and memory, so if no one remembers anymore, they can experience a type of death. Apollo explains that this has happened to both Pan, the god of nature, and Helios, the former god of the sun. Pan left what remained of his spirit to his followers — the satyrs and dryads. Helios simply disappears one day when a few too many people begin praying to Apollo as the god of the sun.

Medea explains that Helios has been suffering for centuries in a state of semi-consciousness. Apollo promises to honor and remember Helios for as long as he drives the sun chariot. Before he dies, Jason’s project is to ensure that shrines or temples are built to all of the gods in both the demigod camps so that no gods will be forgotten again.

Myth and memory are also what sustain the evil Roman emperors, but they are described as stuck in a twilight life, not fully dead or alive. Piper is unsurprised that a group of evil Roman emperors is behind Triumvirate Holdings because she had fought a lot of evil people who’d come back from the Underworld when the Doors of Death were open. Caligula’s goal is to magically extract the essence of two former gods to make himself the new god of the sun.

Apollo’s quest to free the oracles is based on the fact that oracles cannot only predict the future but that their prophecies also shape it, so that if the Roman emperors control all of the sources of prophecy, they can control the future. Apollo states that anyone who kills a magical bird called a strix will be cursed. He also mentions that Vulcan was responsible for the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Apollo dismisses it by saying the god was having a bad week.

Apollo explains that even if someone has a good afterlife experience (which most people do not), life in the upper world is better. Meg’s father’s goal was to reincarnate an ancient group of dryads. Meg eventually succeeds at this. Apollo mentions that he wishes he did not believe in bad omens but that he is obligated to since he is the god of omens.

Apollo mentions that Michelangelo painted the oracle in the Sistine Chapel. She was being celebrated for an obscure prophecy that predicted Jesus’ birth.

Authority Roles

Apollo explains that Meg was raised in Nero’s household, where she was abused and gas-lighted. Now she struggles to trust anyone. Nero would blame all of his violent and abusive behavior on an alter ego called the Beast and blame Meg for waking or angering the Beast.

Meg’s biological father is portrayed as kind and nurturing. He loved Meg dearly and always included her in his work, but unfortunately he was killed when she was a young girl. Apollo explains that he was never concerned about the arrogance of Roman emperors, since they were the biggest benefactors of the Greek and Roman gods, spreading Greek and Roman influence all over the known world. He also states that Caligula modeled his arrogance after that of the gods.

Apollo remembers Zeus as a stern and calloused father who bordered on being abusive. Apollo wonders if he would abandon Meg and the other demigods to their fate, if Zeus offered him a way back to Olympus despite all the terrible things Zeus had done to him.

Meg wonders why Demeter hasn’t intervened in California despite the droughts and fires. She also wonders why her mother had never spoken to her or helped her when she was stuck in Nero’s household. Apollo secretly thinks that Demeter could have forgotten Meg existed, like many gods forget their demigod children, but he keeps that to himself.


The demigods occasionally use darn. They also replace profanities with the names of Greek gods and places, such as what the Hades. The demigods and other characters occasionally resort to name-calling, such as loser, idiot, fool, etc. Apollo concludes at one point that he should go down the middle branch of a tunnel in the maze, since the intersection looks like five fingers and he assumes that the maze would want to give him the middle finger.

A strix slashes its talons across Apollo’s face, barely missing his eye. Apollo tells Meg that the strixes will disembowel them, drink their blood and eat their flesh if they can’t escape. Apollo attempts to protect Meg from the strixes but accidentally swings a sword right at her neck.

Luckily she ducks in time, but a strix takes advantage of her distraction and cuts her thigh open. Caligula orders one of his guards to kill his predecessor. The guard smothers the current emperor with a pillow while the emperor desperately claws the guard’s forearms, leaving bloody scratches.

One of Caligula’s followers, Macro, wants to roll Apollo up in a carpet and kill his two satyr friends. Apollo and his friends run through a retail store, knocking things over and blowing up merchandise as they attempt to escape, but no one is seriously injured until Grover accidentally sets some automatons on a self-destruct setting, killing Macro. Apollo explains that in Macro’s first life, Caligula didn’t trust him and ordered his execution. Macro committed suicide instead, but since he was resurrected, he hoped to regain Caligula’s trust by capturing Apollo.

Apollo doesn’t go into details but explains that Caligula’s reign was bloodier and more infamous than Nero’s, and hints that Caligula is synonymous with madness, torture and murder. In a vision, Apollo sees the dead body of Meg’s father on the steps of Grand Central Station. His chest is mutilated with claw or knife marks. Two dryads from Aeithales make it out of the burning maze, but with severe burns. One had the left side of her face and her left arm burned off. The other had lost both of her legs and eventually dies from her wounds.

Apollo remembers Medea killing her brother and chopping him to bits. She also murdered her own children. In their first altercation with Medea, Meg beheads the sorceress’s two sun dragons, leaving pools of steaming blood on the ground. Medea use magic to lift Meg into the air and dash her into a pillar. She crumples to the ground and is unable to get up for a while. Apollo, Meg and Piper narrowly avoid being burned to death by Helios. Piper shoots Medea with a poisoned blowgun dart. Medea passes out, and the three friends manage to escape the tunnel.

In a flashback sequence, Caligula orders a poet’s tongue to be cut out, dipped in silver and displayed in a public forum, because the poet had criticized him in some of his writings. Apollo and Piper trick some of Caligula’s human guards into letting them on the boat, but Meg complains that it would have been easier to kill them or beat them unconscious. Caligula’s other guards are a type of large-eared monster called pandai. When Jason, Apollo, Meg and Piper are captured by some pandai, one of them holds a sword to Apollo’s neck. Meg kills a few pandai with her swords, and Jason fries another with a strike of lightning.

Apollo remembers dating a Russian duchess who was shot to death, along with the rest of her family. When the horse in Caligula’s footwear boat captures Apollo and Piper, the horse head-butts Piper into a wall. Apollo hears a sickening crunch. Her face is described as a nightmare with her upper lip split across her teeth, lower jaw askew and blood trickling out of her mouth.

Medea explains that she will flay Apollo’s human form to extract his divine essence and then Caligula will consume that essence. One of Caligula’s guards pledges the emperor his heart, and Caligula decides to take that literally. The guard is dragged out of the throne room pleading for mercy and presumably has his heart cut out.

Caligula explains that he grew up in the house of his evil uncle, Tiberius. He states that he woke up every day expecting to be assassinated like the rest of his family. Caligula stabs one of his guards in the gut for failing a mission.

Apollo impales himself with an arrow in an attempt to stop Medea from extracting his godly essence by killing himself. Apollo reports feeling dizzy and having difficulty breathing, as blood soaks through his shirt and pools around him. Medea uses her magic to heal him.

Piper punches Medea in the face as the four friends try to escape from Caligula’s throne room boat. Jason gets shot in the leg with an arrow and another one hits him in the arm. Caligula stabs Jason in the back with a spear. Once Jason falls to the ground, Caligula pulls out the spear and stabs Jason again, killing him.

When the shackles that held the oracle attach themselves to Apollo, they burn his wrists and he almost passes out from the pain and the smell. He comments that he does not enjoy the smell of burning flesh. As Medea begins her spell to flay Apollo, he reports feeling indescribable pain. The stones underneath him begin to cut through his skin and fire arcs across his body. Medea uses magic to knock two pandai guards into the lava river surrounding the oracle. She stabs another pandos in the gut.

Piper kills Medea by stabbing her in the back with a dagger. The silver wives kill several of Caligula’s guards, while escorting Apollo and Meg safely back out of the maze, including Caligula’s talking horse, who is stabbed from seven directions at once.


Apollo remembers that when he first saw Caligula in Rome, the emperor was completely naked and painted gold, presenting himself as the new god of the sun. Apollo is attracted to a girl named Thalia and flirts with her but realizes that since they are both children of Zeus, they are technically siblings. Apollo states that Zeus’ many affairs can make dating a real minefield. Apollo mentions that he and Piper have to travel through an entire boat of lingerie to reach the footwear boat. One of the clues that leads Apollo through the burning maze refers to the tragic death of one of Apollo’s former boyfriends.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

12 to 14


Rick Riordan






Record Label



Disney Hyperion


On Video

Year Published



Best Middle Grade and Childrens’ Goodreads Choice Award, 2018


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