Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Last Apprentice Series, by Joseph Delaney

Revenge of the WitchAt the age of 13, one Thomas Ward becomes an apprentice Spook - a hunter of the supernatural - in a fantasy medieval realm not much unlike our own.  The series is dark. Our Spook's Apprentice pays a high price for his knowledge, faces true horrors, and gets little recognition or thanks.  And yet, this shiveringly creepy young adult series manages to be compelling.

As a fan of supernatural hunter stories in general, I found this series to be a delicious read. Fans all over the world agree, though they may call them The Spook's Apprentice, instead. With a brand new book releasing soon, and a movie in development, we can anticipate much more spine-chilling adventure.

Here is the Last Apprentice Series, in order, with my plot summaries and reviews:

Book #1, Revenge of the Witch, is the firsthand account of this young apprentice. Tom is a seventh son of a seventh son, and the child of a mother who seems to know rather more than she should, in a world where the supernatural is viewed with suspicion.

As a Spook's Apprentice, he must learn to face the supernatural, keeping it at bay for the villagers who no longer see him as one of them. Because someone must, and his mother is confident he can.

Mr. Gregory, the Spook, will teach him all a Spook's Apprentice should know: what horrors go bump in the night, how to survive them, and what tools to use to defeat or bind them.  And, above all, beware girls wearing pointy shoes.

That can't mean Tom's new friend, Alice, can it? Sure, she's odd, appearing and disappearing out of the forest, but she helped him when the village bullies were picking on him. All she asks in return is one tiny little favor....  This, of course, is where everything goes wrong.

One of the things I find most appealing is the way the author portrays characters as grey, or human, rather than black or white.  Tom's mum does good, but there a good many hints she may be more powerful than her son imagines, and may even be something he's being taught it is his duty to fight.  His friend Alice genuinely confuses him as to her morality and motivations, and yet, she helps him when the chips are truly down.  The Spook is a force of good, and yet he is so very human, with judgements, mistakes, failures and a past.  It's not often I come across such deftly handled, deep characters. 

Most of the series is told as first person accounts by Tom himself.  There are lovely sections in back appearing to be an old-style hunter's journal, in his own hand.  This section comes complete with illustrations.  I know many fans, inspired by the TV show Supernatural, are creating their own hunter's journal - this would be a great resource for that.

Book #2, Curse of the Bane, slowly gives us more insight into Mr. Gregory's past, introducing a powerful entity the Spook has faced - and failed to destroy - before.  Young Tom will find himself attempting to outwit that foul monster to save Mr. Gregory.  And yet, how can the apprentice imagine he can succeed where his master has failed?  We also see more of Alice, for good or ill.

Book #3, Night of the Soul Stealer, takes us to Anglezarke for the winter.  According to Mr. Gregory, it's something they must do because the dark gets quite strong there in the winters.  But the Spook has secrets lurking in his old house.  Tom will learn much more about his master's past before spring comes again.

In book #4, Attack of the Fiend, Mr. Gregory decides it's time to finally put an end to the Witches of Pendle.  But some witches have the gift of sight, and they're not going quietly.  Instead, they call forth the worst enemy the Spook and his apprentice have ever had to face.  I liked this one for the glimpses of the different witch clans, and the revelation of some of Tom's mother's secrets.  Not all witches were the same - some were more like Alice, others quite foul, and they disagreed on the wisdom of calling up the monstrous entity they did.  Attack of the Fiend is a pivotal book in the series for setting up tension and action that will follow.

Book #5, Wrath of the Bloodeye, seemed even darker yet than the other books.  Tom is sent away to another Spook for additional training.  While Mr. Gregory is firm and set in his ways, but generally fair and always honorable, this other Spook is a drunk with a temper.  Things get quite difficult for young Tom.  But he learns a great deal, which serves him well when the apprentice finds himself having to face the terrifying Bloodeye.

The pace really picks up in book #6, Clash of the Demons, as Tom's mother forges an army and sweeps them all off to Greece to face an ancient bloodthirsty god.  Mr Gregory wants no part of this, and tells Tom he will no longer be his apprentice if he goes.  But Tom feels duty bound to help his Mam, and, in so doing, learns a bit more about what she is - and the powers that are his to command as his legacy from her.

Book #7, Rise of the Huntress, gives us a County lost to war.  The Spook and his apprentice flee to a small island to the west, toward Ireland, only to find no sanctuary there, either.  They're not the only ones fleeing the enemy soldiers; one of their old enemies has become frighteningly more powerful, and seeks her revenge.  She must be dealt with - once and for all.

In book #8, Rage of the Fallen, Mr. Gregory and Tom have made it to Ireland.  Spooks are needed, there, but they soon find themselves facing a new manifestation of the dark - one they cannot defeat without Alice, which does not sit well with Mr. Gregory.

In book #9, one of Joseph Delaney's most awesome characters gets to tell her own story: Grimalkin the Witch Assassin.  The ruthless, deadly witch has allied with Tom before, and must do so again as they try to bring down their shared enemy.

Book #10, Lure of the Dead, is full of horrifyingly strange events, betrayal, and tough choices.  The apprentice is growing up.

In book #11, we leave the County again, this time to read the tale of Slither, a dark mage in place where there are no spooks.  He's about to have a journey quite unlike anything he could have expected, and cross paths with the witch assassin, Grimalkin.

Fun as every Last Apprentice novel is, I am most eager to reach I Am Alice, the 12th book, due to be released in September.  At last we may see inside Alice's head.  I wonder if we will regret it?

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