Book Review: Clash of the Demons by Joseph Delaney

It’s always good to keep perspective in mind when reviewing a book. If I were to score Wrath of the Bloodeye a 10 because it was a page turner, while giving Gardens of the Moon a 7 for lack of characterization, I would be compromising my integrity as a reviewer. Delaney has taken the easy road while Erikson has striven for a difficult masterpiece. If Erikson falls short, it is still falling short at a level far above Delaney. Joseph Delaney’s target audience is young adult; Steven Erikson’s target audience is adult, highly educated, and capable of making complex connections within the text. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a Delaney book as an adult, but I cannot compare the two books to each other by using a scoring system, as I have explained above and also in some of my past entries.

Why the opening disclaimer? The truth is, if I have a negative impression of a Delaney book, it must be looked at from the perspective that, given its target audience, my impression probably means very little. If the target audience is impressed with a book, then the author has done his or her job.

Clash of the Demons is the sixth book in the Last Apprentice series. You’ll find links to my reviews of previous books in the series over in the sidebar. At 395 pages, it is shorter than the last few books. At quite frankly, I was disappointed with this book.

From the very start of the book, things just seem different from previous books, and not in a good way. Tom’s Mam has changed. He is leaving the county behind, to travel to Greece. And he’s allied with the witches of Pendle. Events proceed slowly, with the majority of the book being about the journey to and through Greece, to finally face the ultra-powerful witch Ordeen.

Besides moving the story to a completely different environment and a heavy focus on the trip, the other thing that bothered me about the story was that I seemed curiously detached from the characters and action, which I had not experienced before in the series. As Delaney tries to describe the mystical realm of Ord and the battle that takes place there, he reaches for more but comes up short. His fast-moving, just-enough-detail approach has served him well in the prior books, but here is where such an approach falls flat. As I finished the story I found I could remember few details about the Ord – maybe such details were there, but they didn’t resonate with me. This is where someone with wonderful world-building skills like Stephen Donaldson or Robert Jordan would set a memorable scene, but Delaney simply does not provide enough detail.

The most glaring, disappointing characteristic of the story, however, is the fact that it just isn’t scary. The appeal of this series has been witches crawling out of holes, things not appearing as they seem, and being pursued and hunted in the dark. Up to this point, Delaney had done a wonderful job setting up scary or intense scenes. In this story, however, I never felt that.

Combine all this with some Deus Ex Machina devices during the Ord battle and the devastating losses Tom suffers, and the book becomes quite unappealing. I liked previous books because they were dark; here, rather than darkness, we simply have bleakness.

Due to the lack of appeal I found within the book, it took me over a week to read instead of the usual 2-3 days I have become accustom to (and this is a smaller book!). This is by far the weakest book in the series. Now that the next story will resume in the familiar setting of the County, I’m hoping that the series returns to its roots and allows Delaney to do what he does best – write a compelling story that has some frightening moments, while outside the rain drums on the roof, the wind howls and creates banging noises, and the tree branches scrape and tap on the window, all seeking to immerse me in the darkness…

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