My house is a reader’s house. We’re all into reading, including my daughter! (Who just asked for a Kindle for her birthday if that gives you an idea how big of a reader she is!) Here recently, she’s been locked into a book series that really grabbed a hold of her imagination; Joseph Delaney’s “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch”. Every night throughout her first reading of the first book, she’s been coming out to tell us about the adventures of Tom Ward and the evil Mother Malkin but we really didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. I was able to gather that the story had monsters, was about a man known as a “Spook” who took care of the monsters, ghosts and other such maladies that plagued the small towns of this little world and an evil witch. Me being the horror nerd for so long, my attention was grabbed fairly quickly of course so I figured I would try it out so we could have a good chat. I started on a Sunday night…finished on Monday night and…can somebody tell my daughter to hurry up with the second book, I want to read it!
While it may be too soon to call this series the second coming of “Harry Potter”, I am fully confident in claiming that Joseph Delaney has created a dark and magical little world with strong characters and a great sense of adventure. He also tries to buck some of the conventional fantasy and young adult tropes that are repeated so often in the genre. Often times, you will find a child whose adventures start with finding out that the fate of the world rests on his shoulders and he must set out immediately to fulfill his destiny. Sometimes, this idea is augmented with a magical sword that was passed down to child at some point, or found in a dusty barn somewhere and it’s that weapon that will lead to his destiny. For Tom Ward, his life as the apprentice of the County Spook starts a little more humbly; he’s the seventh son of his family. It’s a given that his dad will pass the family farm on to the oldest brother and he’s used his favors with the local businesses to find jobs for the other sons. When Tom comes of age? There’s not many favors left to cash in, so it’s off to talk to the Spook to see if he’s looking for a new apprentice!
Now, I would be lying if I said there is no ‘destiny’ involved in Tom’s path. There are some foreboding comments here and there that leads us to believe that there is something big in store for you Tom. They are not presented as a key element to the characters persona however. He’s simply of the age that he needs to take on a trade and being the county Spook is the trade that’s available to him. As the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, there are some hints that Tom is perhaps a step above the other kids around him in that he can see a little more in the world than most. He’s not all powerful though. In fact, his master Gregory tells him straight up that they don’t use magic at all and stresses the use of carful thinking and preparation, both good traits for anybody to have.
Beyond the characters and plot devices, the world of “The Last Apprentice” is just plain old fun for standard horror fan and friendly for the younger members of our ranks. In the first book, Tom is forced to deal primarily with Boggarts, Ghasts and Witches. For most of us normies, that would be plenty! With the way these creatures are presented, it seems pretty obvious that as Tom’s training continues in the further books of the series, we will be introduced to a whole host of other creatures and things that go bump in the night. For me, nothing in the books comes out as outright scary, but who cares about that? I’m not the target audience for the story for one and I’m a bit jaded as far as scary things go after being a horror blogger for years! Judging from my own daughters’ reaction, the stories pack a good level of creepiness for the target audience of 10 to 13 year olds. There seems to be just enough there to make their imaginations run wild and perhaps check that shadowy corner twice when they’re going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but not enough to keep the same kid up for three nights straight with night terrors and cold sweat. The world is dark and there are some slimy things in there, but you’re going to have a good time wandering the county getting to know them all!
In the end, this young adult book as captured my 37 year old imagination pretty heavily. I read the thing in one night after all! Judging by my own daughter’s imagination, the books are equally effective for the tween set too. Give it a read and have some fun.
One extra addendum here; my digging on the book series has revealed that there is a movie in the works for “The Last Apprentice”! There is a change in title to “The Seventh Son” but it looks to have the same good adventure packed inside. Even better? Jeff Bridges will be playing Master Gregory and from what I’ve seen of the character in my own readings…I’m beside myself! That’s going to be awesome! The movie touts Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin as well, but I don’t really know about that. She’s way too pretty to be a hag!