Book Review: Grimalkin the Witch Assassin by Joseph Delaney

grimalkinFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2012

Pages: 387

Reading Time: about 3 hours


Grimalkin the Witch Assassin is the ninth book in The Last Apprentice series. It seems my wish has been granted; I had been hoping for more of Grimalkin, who I consider the most interesting character in the series. Did this live up to my expectations? Read on to find out, with minor spoilers to follow…

This is the first book in the series where the point of view is from a character other than Tom Ward, the Spook apprentice. This is due to the fact that at the end of Rage of the Fallen, the story splits into two arcs: the Spook and Tom are trying to research how to destroy the Fiend, while Grimalkin has the Fiend’s head and tries to keep the pursuing forces away from Tom to buy him some time. The story follows the witch assassin as she tries to stay ahead of the masses of forces pursuing her – they want to reclaim the Fiend’s head, which can then be re-attached to his body, allowing his followers to re-animate him.

Grimalkin is aided by several supporting characters: Thorne, Grimalkin’s apprentice; the lamia witches that are Tom’s aunts; Alice’s aunt, Agnes; a knight in a castle; and Alice herself. The help is sorely needed, as the pursuers consist of almost 100 witches, a dark mage, and an abhuman beast called the Kretch, a giant wolf-like creature.

I was slightly disappointed at the way Grimalkin’s character was presented in the story. There is a little blurb at the beginning of each chapter that gives the reader insight into Grimalkin’s thought process and character, and during the story the reader is also presented with Grimalkin’s backstory and her thoughts on the dangers she faced. However, other than dismay at her deteriorating condition, a poignant moment of loss and a sequence of cold vengeance, I didn’t get a good feeling for what Grimalkin felt. In other words, I often knew what Grimalkin was thinking, but not what she was feeling. In my opinion, Delaney missed a prime opportunity to really develop Grimalkin into something special, instead sacrificing depth for action sequences. Now I should say that this has been normal through the series, and Delaney is being consistent; also, this is a YA novel, so we’re not going to get Wheel of Time character profiles. I just wished for a little more personality for my favorite character.

Ultimately, this is a story about mortality: Grimalkin accepts that she may not have much time left. She deals with the effects of the poison: slower reflexes, bouts of weakness, blackouts, and depletion of her strength and magic. To her, it becomes imperative that Thorne assumes her responsibilities, and Grimalkin tries to instill something in Thorne…well, we can’t call it goodness, but maybe a good word to use instead would be a conscience. Grimalkin doesn’t kill for fun; she kills for a purpose, and she feels the loss of those who make sacrifices on her behalf. Unlike most witches, she seems to have some kind of conscience, and is not totally evil. In fact, her motivation for destroying the Fiend is quite believable, because the Fiend killed her baby. Also, where tradition has had challengers fight the witch assassin and either lose and perish, or win and assume the title, Grimalkin intends to change that by stepping aside when her apprentice is ready. She doesn’t want to fight and kill Thorne, she wants her apprentice to succeed. So though her motivation is to destroy the Fiend, she has another – to see Thorne, who she cares about, step into her shoes.

One more minor complaint I have is the use of Alice as a Deus Ex Machina…suddenly Alice has become an extremely powerful witch, almost overnight and out of nowhere. We know she is the daughter of the Fiend, and as a result has some power, but suddenly she is able to do things she couldn’t do before, including a healing that her aunt, a witch who had practiced healing all her life, couldn’t do.

In conclusion, Delaney has given me what I asked for: more of Grimalkin. While I would have liked to see her fleshed out more, rather than simply moving from one battle to the next, I did find the story interesting. As an action book it succeeds, but on an emotional level it falls a bit short. Recommended for fans of the series, especially those who really like Grimalkin’s character, but not to the casual reader who hasn’t read any of the previous books.

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