The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney
The Last Apprentice is a book I got out of a Hastings book bargain bin nearly a year ago, and sat on my shelf along with forty other books. To be more specific about the book, it’s the first in the series called The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney and here is my review.
So the book begins on a farm where the father of the family is assigning off his seventh sons to the jobs they will be doing for the rest of their lives. And the book focuses on the seventh son Tom who is assigned the job of being a Spook, and is to be the apprentice to the current Spook in the county. A spook is a hunter of witches, ghouls, and other things that go bump in the night. Often a Spook, though a hero, live lonely lives because people know evil is attracted to Spooks because of the business. A Spook can only be a seventh son of a seventh son, which is Tom. This is because those born this way are psychic. They can these death echoes, ghosts, or as the book calls them, traumatic terrible things in history, which are raw emotions left behind by those who were dying. One example is when Tom would witness these visions of men hanging to their death from trees in what used to be an old battlefield. Spooks have the ability to witness spirits to some extent and trails left behind by evil. So it is no surprise that these people would end up in the trade.
And the story continues with Tom’s apprenticeship with this old man. He learns the basics of how to bury witches, deal with Boggarts, and run errands for the Spook. One day, a girl named Alice comes out of the woods to saves him from bullying and asks for a favor in the future. When the Spook must investigate the going ons in another town and leaves Tom alone, Alice asks Tom to give these cakes to her aunt. Her aunt turns out to be Mother Malkin, a witch held prisoner in a cell in the Spook’s garden. She pleads that Malkin is starving and had been there for years and that just the tiniest snack doesn’t change anything. It isn’t until later when Tom finds that the witch had escaped. The cakes had the secret ingredient of children blood that made her strong enough to escape and Tom must do all that he can to stop his very stupid mistake. Okay. Enough exposition there. Let’s move onto the good and bad?
The good? There is a great usage of imagination here. When I first read the seventh son of a seventh son trope, it scared me a little bit because I’ve seen it used in a few novels before and it meant they were destined to wield magic. Here I was relieved to see they are not superheroes wielding magic, but are those damned to be the ones to see the evil that no one can. Having the leads be normal humans to an extent was a very good change up. Also I must say this is one of the few books, fantasy wise, that blends the line of good and evil. There is a whole subplot with Alice exploring a concept that I found fascinating where morally grey themes are explored. Usually it’s plain as day who’s good and whose bad is. I’m glad they did that to make the characters more realistic. Also there are parts of this book that are genuinely creepy.
Now the bad? One thing the book had going against it, is it’s incredible lack of detail. If not for the illustrations between the chapters and cover art, I would not have been able to piece together whether this happened in a medieval or present day. I could have easily assumed this was set around some country town and someone could have pulled a cell phone out of their pocket at any moment. So the author only assumed that the reader would automatically grasp this as a generic cliché fantasy world, just because it’s a fantasy alone. The second issue is the identity crises the book has with tone. This book has big font, roughly two paragraphs on each page and has many illustrations. It is clearly aimed at kids, but at the same time it had many horror elements. The evil mother Malkin used to take in young pregnant women, eat their babies when they're born, and then kill the mother. She did this for years according to the book. There is a scene where Tom goes through the battle field, and all the soldiers are hanging from trees struggling to breath as the die. The fact that was a girl in the story who was who was repeatedly cut and bleed so the Mother Malkin can have something to feed on until she can find a baby to eat. This author is walking a very tight rope with this book trying to keep this in the children's section. I’m not sure if the baby eating witches is something that a parent want to read to their child at all. I would love to say it was meant for a older crowd, but the pacing and the way it was written in such a simple fashion it felt like it was meant for third to fifth graders. So the book certainly suffers from a huge identity crisis to say the least.
Overall, the book is surprisingly dark but a simple read. If you don’t believe it by the first quarter, then I don’t blame you. But keep reading, I promised it will pull off some stuff you didn’t see coming adding a surprising element of suspense. I can’t recommend this to younger all that much though. I can imagine this tale scaring my niece. I was going to give it to her once I was done since it is classified as a 'children's novel," but now I’m not so sure what to do with my copy. So unless you are fine with your kid reading horror, I wouldn't recommend this to a young child. But its interesting to adults despite the kiddie writing style and pacing because it does become so surprisingly dark. Because of identity crises, I give it two and a half stars.
2 ½ smoothies out of four.
Overall Rating: A Dark Scary Tale That Tries So Hard To Be Kid Friendly
Have You Read This Book?
ShawnC on May 26, 2019:
Ive been through the entire series. If you know witch history and folk lore, you'll enjoy these books. The Revenge is just the start of the entire story.