Monday, May 27, 2013
THE LAST APPRENTICE: REVENGE OF THE WITCH by Joseph Delaney
This is the first in Delaney's "Wardstone Chronicles" although it's not marked as such in the U.S. It's technically young adult lit, but that's OK with me; sometimes the YA market has the most solid examples of chiller writing that doesn't wallow in sex and gore. (Check out the works of John Bellairs if you don't believe me.)
This series also has something of a dissociative-identity disorder, as in the UK (where it was first published) it was simply called The Spook's Apprentice. Obviously, the word "spook" has certain connotations in the U.S., so they had to make it a bit more dramatic and palatable by calling the series "The Last Apprentice" and then throwing in new titles...in this case, Revenge of the Witch. However, it's a bit specious as the term "spook" is thrown about pretty freely in the text, although it has no racial implications.
Tom Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son, and as such can see ghosts, ghasts, and other supernatural beings. He's nominated to be the next apprentice of the Spook, who's a sort of freelance exorcist and supernatural troubleshooter, someone needed in their world but also a social outcast. Tom isn't sure about this, and about leaving his home farm, but his mother encourages him. He and the Spook set off across "the County", which is based on Lancashire in the UK, and appears to be in a sort of amorphous past era that could be anywhere from medieval to the early 19th century.
The Spook puts him through some tests to gauge his nerve, and educates him on what's involved in the job. The Spook keeps imprisoned witches in his garden, as it's too dangerous to kill them, and also teaches him about boggarts and ghouls and other charming denizens of the night. Tom also befriends an odd girl, Alice, who might be a witch...or just a trainee. And what are the strange requests she's making?
Revenge of the Witch is a good zesty read, a fun companion on a windy night. The characters are well-etched and the milieu is fascinating. It's hard to tell if this is meant to be a detached, separate fantasy world or a sort of twisted vision of England, and what the exact time period it's supposed to be. The chills are chilling, and while not overtly gruesome they're creepy enough. I had fun with this, and am looking forward to reading the others. (There's 11 books right now, with one coming out next month and another next year. And a movie in the works as well.)
Highly recommended, especially for the Junior Dusties out there.