Reading Time: about 4 hours
After a book that deviated from the norm by following the actions of the witch assassin Grimalkin, the story now returns to the viewpoint of Thomas Ward, Spook’s apprentice. Is Delaney able to maintain the momentum he has built up in the last couple of books? Read on to find out, but beware of minor spoilers…
While Alice and Grimalkin had their own adventure in the last story, we now follow the actions of Tom and the Spook. Tom is now about 16 years old and has been apprenticed for 4 years. While the Spook’s house is being built (it was destroyed several books ago), he receives an offer from a woman across the county. This woman is in possession of a large number of books, and offers to sell some to the Spook in order to rebuild his library. This message is delivered by another former apprentice named Judd Brinscall, a character that has not been previously introduced. (Note: I found it surprising that another former apprentice still existed, and wondered if there were more.) Tom and the Spook set off for the sleepy village of Todmorden to meet with the woman and see which books they might acquire. The villagers are unfriendly and keep to themselves, warning Tom and the Spook to stay away from the foreigners on the other side of the river. Tom and the Spook meet with Mistress Fresque and examine the books. After Tom leaves to hire a cart to haul the books, the situation quickly deteriorates as the Spook goes missing and Tom must face down Romanian witches, strigoi (Romanian vampires/demons), and moroi (a spirit that possesses animals). Tom’s greatest challenge, however, is to prevent Siscoi, an old vampire god, from taking mortal form and terrorizing the countryside. At the same time, Tom learns more about his mother’s mysterious past and her plans for Tom and his abilities.
There are a lot of similarities between this book and previous books. Tom must make multiple attempts to defeat the strigoi, and fortunately does not get captured over and over as in some previous books; instead, he is forced to retreat and try different tactics. Although this has been a staple of the series and gets tiring at times, it also has consistently defined Tom’s spirit and willpower. Although Tom frequently meets with failure, his determination, persistence, and willpower carry him through. Grimalkin and Alice feature prominently in the last half of the story, and Alice is using dark magic more and more. A subplot involves Alice’s turn towards the dark, as well as the preparations for the ritual that will be required to destroy the Fiend. It’s also a transitional book, as we are given many hints that the Spook will be out of the picture and Tom will become his replacement.
Due to the smallish book size (it’s smaller than a normal hard cover) and large font, the reading time is shorter than books with a comparable number of pages. Another aspect that shortens the required reading time is that the pace of the story is quick, with lots of action being the most prominent feature, as it has been in previous books. Once again you won’t find a lot of character depth, but at the same time the story never bogs down in the details. There were a few instances where I thought I had discovered plot holes (such as why some strigoi offered Tom protection instead of killing him), but it is the main plot arc – the Fiend attempting to return to his body and rule the world – that explains these moments. Knowing events and explanations in previous books are key to understanding and answering these types of questions.
There are a few parts of the book that I feel are are extremely well-done. One of these parts occurs after the Spook disappears and Tom is once again on his own. Similar to events in Wrath of the Bloodeye, when Bill Arkwright disappears and Tom is alone, this creates a tense and compelling sequence. As Tom descends into the basement of a house, he enters what amounts to a nest of vampires, and it is the best part of the story – it had me on the edge of my seat:
“Then I heard a noise, and a cold gust of wind blew the candle out again. I waited, hardly breathing, and put the stub in my breeches pocket. Then I gripped my sword with both hands and went into a crouch, ready to defend myself. The blade began to glow once more, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw red points of light moving toward me. There were a dozen or more. I heard a low growl to my right, another directly ahead. I began to tremble, and the ruby light from the sword quickly faded. There were eyes – too many eyes! How many of the creatures were there?”
Another well-done part is when Tom tries to track down the boggart and enlist its help once more, in order to guard the Spook’s new house:
“Again there came the scritch-scratch of invisible claws on the wood. When I read what it had written, I was filled with dismay: my price is higher this time. you must give me more.”
In conclusion I found the first half of the book to be tense and compelling, while the second half was action-packed but not quite as tense due to the arrival of Tom’s allies. It’s another solid entry in the series, and I’m looking forward to the next book, as it looks like Tom will be increasingly on his own – which makes for a great story. Recommended for those who have followed the series, enjoy well-written and action-packed YA, and a mix of horror and fantasy. Although the book could stand on its own, the characters and main plot arc (destroying the Fiend) could cause confusion…instead, for readers new to the series, I recommend starting with the first book, Revenge of the Witch (called The Spook’s Apprentice in the UK) instead.