Title: The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (first published in the UK as The Spook's Apprentice)
Author: Joseph Delaney (Illustrations by Patrick Arrasmith)
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Original Copyright Date: 2004
US Copyright Date: 2005
Print Date: September 2005
Pages: 343 + "The Journal of Thomas J. Ward"
Series: 1st in the Wardstone Chronicles (aka The Last Apprentice series)
Book Description (from the dust jacket):
DRIVING AWAY GHOSTS
DRIVING AWAY GHOSTS
FOR years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried — some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive.
Only Thomas Ward is left. He's the last hope; the last apprentice.
Can Thomas succeed? Will he learn the difference between a benign witch and a malevolent one? Does the Spook's warning against girls with pointy shoes include Alice? And what will happen if Thomas accidentally frees Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the county ... ?
The Author Speaks:
Harper Collins has an interview with Joseph Delaney available here. Both an author interview video (different discussion) and a video with the illustrator are available if you want to search YouTube. I may embed them in future reviews, but they have to many spoilers for this point of the series.
The American titles are:
1 Revenge of the Witch
2 Curse of the Bane
3 Night of the Soul Stealer
4 Attack of the Fiend
5 Wraith of the Bloodeye
6 Clash of the Demons
The British/Australian titles are:
1 The Spook's Apprentice
2 The Spook's Curse
3 The Spook's Secret
4 The Spook's Battle
5 The Spook's Mistake
6 The Spook's Sacrifice
I was browsing the library's book sale room when I came across a book by Joseph Delaney. It sounded interesting, but was obviously from the middle of a series. I'd never heard of the author or series. So I decided to check out the first book in the series and see if I liked it...
It was overdue, and I had run out of renewals before I even started it. But I'm so glad I did start it — instead of just returning it unread (which I considered doing).
As I was about to start I noticed the back cover...
WARNING: NOT TO BE READ AFTER DARK — ESPECIALLY PAGE 148Seriously. It took all I had to stick with the beginning of the book. But start it I did. And I was immediately drawn in. It was as interesting as it sounded and very different. Tom is apprenticing on as a Spook. A lonely but necessary job keeping/stopping ghosts, witches, boggarts, and other beings of the dark from causing harm in the County. He can see and sense magic, but he doesn't actually practice any. Instead, he's training to be a sort of magical enforcer.
The story is told in first person by Tom — a great and very likable character. He's a good kid (almost 13, btw), and I could definitely understand all his concerns (loneliness, fear, etc.) and his excitement (Something he could do! Complete with chances to travel, explore, and have new experiences!)... Plus, he makes mistakes along the way, but he works to fix them rather than ignoring them or pretending he's beyond mistakes.
The illustrations and use of black pages really help add this dark and creepy atmosphere — combined with the realness of Tom, it's easy to be sucked into the story.
Anyway, I guess this would technically be a Middle Grade (MG) book (based on Tom's age), but I'm calling it YA. I certainly enjoyed it, and I think it's one of those books any age could enjoy. I'm looking forward to reading more of the series (I already have books 2 and 3 waiting to be picked up at the library). In the meantime, I'm feeling relieved that I didn't miss out on it by returning it too soon.