Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: Slither by Joseph Delaney

slitherFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  371

Reading Time:  a quick 4-5 hours

Slither is the eleventh book in the Last Apprentice series. Like book 9, Grimalkin, the story takes a detour away from Tom Ward, the Spook’s Apprentice, and on to a whole new character: Slither. A few other new characters are introduced, a horde of gruesome beasts parade through the pages, and a familiar character makes an appearance. I was fully prepared for a negative view of this book based on some early reviews I caught on Amazon. Is that my consensus? Read on to find out…

The setting for this story is a land far to the north of the County. It is a cold, harsh land, divided into farming communities as well as the lands of the Kobalos, a hairy, savage, blood-drinking humanoid race with tails. The Kobalos have a large city called Valkarky, where most of them live, but some of them are Haizda mages – outsiders who study magic and rule over their haizdas, a territory often containing humans. Slither is one such Haizda mage; he commands magic, is able to change his size, his breath has magical properties, and his tail warns him of danger. He makes his home inside a tree (through magical means) and his haizda consists of several farms, most of which are terrified of him. There is one farmer that trades with him, however. One day when the farmer has an accident and lays dying, he strikes a deal with Slither – if the creature will deliver his daughters to their aunt and uncle some distance away, Slither may keep the oldest daughter, Nessa, for his own. As Slither agrees and sets off with the girls, the viewpoint switches between Slither and Nessa.

Nessa has some great qualities, consisting of bravery, sacrifice, and empathy. Her story is a sad one, however, since she is destined to be a slave. Kobalos must sell a human at auction every so many years, or he will be hunted down and killed, and Nessa will fulfill this obligation for Slither. The younger sisters are more of an annoyance, however, as they constantly whine and cry about their situation, and aren’t really well developed. In fact, there isn’t really any character development here at all, other than Slither’s and Nessa’s.

The seemingly innocent journey quickly take a turn for the worse when a snowstorm hits and Slither is forced to keep his charges alive by seeking refuge in the manor of another Kobalos mage. When the mage turns out to be treacherous, Slither is forced to kill several opponents, including a mage-assassin who has the ability to send his dying memories instantly to the assassin’s order back in Valkarky. The assassin’s order vows revenge for the loss of one of their own. What follows is a steady stream of opposition that Slither is forced to overcome to keep his side of the bargain with the farmer.

The story has some pretty imaginative elements, from mage assassins and a two thousand year old knight that can’t be defeated, to a grotesque pit creature called the Haggenbrood and centaur-like creature called a hyb. Slither gets deeper and deeper into to trouble, and the main reason for this is surprising: Slither is an honorable creature who keeps to his word. He feels a great obligation to stick to the deal he made with the farmer, often to his own discomfort or risk of life. It’s a good story, and though it is not really frightening, the fantastic elements and change of characters and scenery are enjoyable, unlike the trip to Greece in Clash of the Demons (the sixth book in the series). Delaney goes all out to unleash his imagination with strange creatures and the even stranger culture of the Kobalos. One problem I did have with the story was that it did not seem that Slither was consistent with his people’s culture…where he is lenient and honorable, most of his people, including their rulers, are cruel and treacherous. Now maybe Slither’s years away from his people have changed him, but even when he is consistently betrayed by them, he stubbornly sticks to complying with their cultural norms and customs, putting himself at a disadvantage. This is only a minor annoyance, however. The appearance of Grimalkin, still carrying the fiend’s head and looking for something specific, was a pleasant surprise, and her character is fleshed out even more with qualities I would not have expected of her.

So despite the negative reviews I had observed, I actually enjoyed reading Slither. I know some people won’t appreciate the deviation from the main story line, but to me it’s not a stalling tactic or a money grab – it’s a good enough story, and looks like it’s important to explain what’s happening with Grimalkin. It will be interesting to see whether some of the characters specific to this book  will make an appearance again sometime in the future. The book is a quick read, with a large font and smaller page size (consistent with the rest of the series), and copious amounts of action. The book also contains a lengthy poem at the end and a Kobalos glossary. Recommended for fans of the series that don’t mind a change of scenery (and characters) once in a while.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Lure of the Dead by Joseph Delaney

the-last-apprentice-lure-of-the-dead-book-10Format: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2012

Pages: 418

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.

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  448

Reading Time:  About 3.5 hours

 

Rage of the Fallen is the 8th book in The Last Apprentice series. After the previous 2 entries, I was concerned with the direction the series was taking, questioning whether or not I should stick with it. Though Rage of the Fallen is not without flaws, I’m happy to say the series is headed back in the right direction. Minor spoilers to follow.

Tom Ward and the Spook have left the isle of Mona to escape the enemy soldiers, sailing to Ireland to take refuge there. Instead of refuge, however, they find themselves thrust in the middle of a battle between landowners and the Mages, a cabal of dark practitioners of magic, who are attempting to summon & bind the god Pan and use his power for their own ends. The landowners fear being subjegated to the dark mages and thus attempt to thwart the plans of the cabal. In addition, a seemingly dead foe has come back from the grave to hunt Tom, while the dark crow-god Morrigan seeks Tom’s demise. And still there is the pursuit by the Fiend, who continues to seek Tom out in order to collect his soul.

Like the previous story, there’s a lot going on here, which moves the tale along at a brisk pace. Only the most minimal descriptions are used to illuminate the setting of the story…action and dialog are prominent. This is something that has remained fairly consistent throughout the series. Tom grows by leaps and bounds in this story, admitting that he loves Alice, experiencing loss and heartache, but also developing his skills so that he now seems equipped to fight the dark. He still makes frustratingly questionable decisions that somehow work out to his advantage, and getting captured seems to be his favorite way of handling situations, but it’s not as repetitive as it was in the previous book.

The story also heralds the return of Grimalkin, the witch assassin, probably the best character that Delaney has created. Her role is very important in this book, and the character is a much-needed addition, both in terms of storyline and enjoyment by the reader. In addition, the Spook seems to be changing as well…he used to be completely opposed to any use of dark magic, but now is more accepting. At one point he even speculates that perhaps in the future, Tom’s role is to fight the dark using the dark against itself, ushering in a new methodology for being a Spook. It is a welcome change, where in the past Tom and the Spook had an adversarial relationship when it came to the use of dark magic. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Tom is fulfilling the role of the title The Last Apprentice…with the Spook aging and Bill Cartwright out of the picture, and no other Spooks being mentioned during the series, Tom will soon be fighting the dark alone.

I still believe that Delaney has lost the ability to generate heart-pounding or really scary moments like there have been in the past. I’m not sure if this is because action has become more prominent than setting, or if I have just become accustomed to Delaney’s style. I liked the addition of some Celtic lore, such as the Morrigan and the Sidhe, but I would have liked to have seen more elements such as Bansidhe (Banshee), Pookas, etc. There just isn’t enough room in the story for such elements without making the book considerably longer. The title, Rage of the Fallen, refers to an Irish hero who goes berserk in battle, and plays an important role in the story.

In summary I’m pleased with the story and enjoyed it quite a bit. In keeping with the rest of the books, it’s a quick read that moves along briskly; but unlike some of the other books, this one has a very satisfying ending. For now I’ll continue following The Last Apprentice, and I’m looking forward to the next entry in the series.

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  436

Reading Time:  A little over 3 hours

Rise of the Huntress is the 7th book in The Last Apprentice series. After reading the 6th book, Clash of the Demons, I was left with a negative impression of the direction the series was taking. You can find a link to my review of that book in the sidebar. I wasn’t ready to abandon The Last Apprentice series yet, so I was anxiously looking forward to Rise of the Huntress, hoping the series would return to its roots. Was it successful? The results are mixed. Let’s look at what’s going on with this story (minor spoilers to follow).

Thomas Ward, his friend Alice, and the Spook have returned home to the County from Greece after a devastating fight. Things immediately go from bad to worse when another country’s enemy forces occupy the County, and Tom, Alice, and the Spook are forced to flee to the isle of Mona. On Mona they encounter a buggane, a hideous and evil creature that can take multiple forms and is controlled by a shaman. In addition, an old adversary arrives from the County to make a grab at power. And all the while, soldiers on Mona are rounding up refugees to send them back to the County, while others do the bidding of the shaman.

With all these factions for Tom and the Spook to battle, the story moves rather briskly. There is a minimal description of the environments in Mona, and characters aren’t really well developed.  In fact, some of the characters do things that just don’t make sense. The witch has Tom and the Spook dead to rights more than once, but leaves them alive so that they will suffer a slow and painful death. Time after time it is shown the witch can kill with a spell, but she never uses it on her greatest adversaries, even though they constantly challenge her power.

There’s another scene where Tom and the abhuman named Horn are chained up in the dungeon. Horn snarls at Tom and treats him as an enemy; yet, during their previous encounter, Horn helped Tom and the Spook escape the lair of the buggane because Horn wants the witch dead. It’s unclear how Tom and Horn went from being allies to enemies, and no explanation is offered. Horn also had the power to escape but didn’t use it. Why? Little inconsistencies like this plague the story from time to time.

Tom is a likable enough main character, but my main criticism is that he hasn’t changed much since the first book. He’s got more experience, he’s dealt with painful loss, he’s bargained with the Devil, but he doesn’t seem much different. His “ability” comes and goes, and is ineffective in this book, when it was a deus ex machina in other books. As the seventh son of a seventh son he’s supposed to be able to withstand the dark, but for most of the book he seems to be frozen by spells and unable to act. Despite the fact that we are seven books in the series, he still seems woefully ill-equipped to fight the dark.

The biggest problem with Rise of the Huntress, however, is the repetitive nature of the  storyline. Tom gets captured, then Tom escapes. Tom is captured again, then Tom escapes again. Then the Spook is captured, and Tom helps the Spook escape. Then Tom is captured again…you get the idea. I counted 5 times that Tom was captured, and an additional capturing of the Spook makes six events that involve captures & escapes. It grows rather tiresome as characters plunge recklessly into danger, with poorly-made plans, and are captured over and over.

Rise of the Huntress is an improvement over Clash of the Demons. It has less traveling and more action, and goes back to the original feel and appeal of the series. There still aren’t any heart-pounding or really scary moments like there have been in the past, and I wonder if Delaney has lost the ability to generate such moments. The title of the book is ambiguous…Huntress is a poor choice to describe the enemy. There is also the fact that the book is plagued by several glaring issues. Still, Delaney has taken a step in the right direction, and I’ve ordered the eighth book in the series, Rage of the Fallen, to see what happens next, although my patience is wearing thin.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

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 the two cannot be compared to each other by using a scoring system.

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 they were there, but it didn’t stick. This is where someone 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. To this point Delaney has 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 story has returned to the County, I’m hoping that the next entry returns the series 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 story…

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney

I’ve decided to abandon the structured review for a more free-flowing style, which I feel suits me better. I’ve found that in describing a writer’s style, it changes very little from book to book and can become repetitive, so I’m going to focus more on my thoughts and feelings about what I’ve read rather than a pre-defined layout.

Wrath of the Bloodeye is fifth book in the Last Apprentice series (see my earlier review for the fourth book, Attack of the Fiend). This one comes in at 511 pages, so it’s a slightly smaller than the previous book, and with large fonts and a smaller-sized hardback, it makes for a quick 2-3 day read.

The last book saw the release of the Fiend (the Devil), who has it in for Tom. As a result, the Spook decides Tom needs more intense training and sends him to one of the Spook’s former apprentices, Bill Arkwright. Bill is farther north in lake country, which allows for all kinds of trouble with water witches, the worst being Morwena, also known as the Bloodeye.

This is probably the darkest book of the series. Tom suffers some abuse at the hands of Bill, who is not only a stern taskmaster but also an alcoholic prone to fits of rage. I found this uncomfortable, as it hits a little close to home for me. What it also does is make the supporting characters seem far more real than they have in past entries. Bill is a flawed, wounded individual, and wonderfully written.

We also get lots more time with Grimalkin, who I have mentioned is the most intriguing character to me. We learn much about her motivations and backstory, and some things begin to make sense regarding her character.

Alice’s love for Tom is now very clear at this point, as they exchange a kiss in the book. It is a bittersweet moment, however, as she continues to use whatever means she can to keep Tom safe, means which infuriate the Spook and lead to serious consequences and revelations at the end of the book.

It seems as if the Spook will not have a prominent role in this story, since Tom is sent off to train with Bill. But he shows up in about the last third of the book, for reasons I’ll explain below. The Spook is still a curious character. He seems to care about Tom, but he is becoming more and more resistant to having Alice around. He believes Tom is too careless and ignorant at times, and sending Tom to Bill is an attempt to toughen Tom up for a confrontation with the Fiend.

As I stated above, this is the darkest book so far, which made for some emotional connections to the story. As Tom is suffering abuse at the hands of Bill, I sympathized with Tom and wanted him to strike back. Unfortunately, whenever he does this it just makes things worse. At the same time, it’s hard to feel sorry for Tom, because in this story it becomes clearly apparent what his greatest flaw is – he is disobedient to both Bill and the Spook, and disobedience has consequences. I’m not condoning Bill’s abuse, but Tom could make it easier on himself by just doing what he’s told. Here’s an example of how bad Tom has it after he enters a room in Bill’s house that he was told to stay out of:

Arkwright came bounding down the stairs and ran right at me. For a moment I thought he was going to hit me with the bottle, but he used his right hand to clout me across my left ear. Trying to dodge the blow, I over-balanced, lost my footing, and crashed onto the hall floor. I looked up, my head ringing, gasping for breath. I felt stunned and nauseous: The fall had driven all the breath from my body. Arkwright lifted his boot and I thought he was going to kick me, but instead he crouched close to my head, his furious eyes glaring into mine.

Later, there is a part of the story where Bill is taken by water witches. Whether he is dead or alive at this point of the book is irrelevant. Tom was now thoroughly and totally, alone. Up against a whole pile of water witches, alone. Against the Bloodeye, alone. With the Fiend out there looking for him. This part of the story I found riveting. How would Tom handle being on his own, with no assistance? I began to not just read what it would be like to be the Spook, fighting all sorts of evil, by yourself, but instead I began to feel what it would be like.

Just when things seem to have taken a turn for the worse, the Spook re-enters the story. It’s not in a good way, however, as a trap has been set for him. Again we are treated to an intense and compelling portion of the story:

The next moment there was no doubt. The Spook was walking down the quay toward me carrying his staff and bag, his footsteps echoing. I suppose we noticed each other at exactly the same moment because no sooner had I set eyes on him than he came to a halt. He stared at me for a long time before continuing more slowly. I knew he would have worked out that it was a trap. Why else would I be tied up like that in full view? So he could either retreat and make his escape or come forward and hope that he could deal with whatever had been prepared. I knew he wouldn’t leave me – so it was no choice at all.

From there we move to the final climactic battle, in which Grimalkin makes her appearance. There is less Deus Ex Machina in this book, as Tom relies on his skills and assistance from others, although he does seem to use his ability again in the final conflict. However, now that this ability has been established, it is less disconcerting than its use in the previous story. After the battle we move on to the bittersweet ending, and a tension is established between Tom and the Spook. Will it eventually drive them apart? Add in the appearance of the Fiend and a major bombshell about someone close to Tom, and you probably have the gloomiest ending to a book in the series to date. But it’s also the best book of the series. It is a darker, thrilling read, and Delaney keeps getting better. I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the next story…

September 30, 2008 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Attack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney

After the opus of Gardens of the Moon, I was in the mood for a quick read. I had just picked up Attack of the Fiend, so I moved it to the head of the list. This book is known as The Spook’s Battle in the UK. It’s the 4th book in the Last Apprentice series (the Wardstone series in the UK), which I have become enamored with of late, so on to the review.

Pacing & Structure

Like the previous books in the series, you can blaze through this book in 2-3 days, maybe sooner if you’ve got lots of time. The story is told in first person (which is a perspective I have loved since I first read Zelazny’s Amber series), from Tom’s point of view (Tom is the protagonist). Since Tom is the lone protagonist, we don’t have to worry about other viewpoints. The chapters are not too long, so it’s easy to read to a stopping point if necessary.

Characterization

It’s easy to care about Tom. He wants to help people (his primary motivation), and his loyalty to Alice gets him in trouble with the Spook. What I like about Tom is that he makes mistakes, and has to live with those mistakes. Sometimes emotion gets the better of him, such as when he gloats after betraying Mab, then immediately regrets it, but he has pissed her off and this has consequences later in the book. And Alice is a wonderfully complex character, clearly in love with Tom (her motivation) and walking the line between good and evil.

In this book we are introduced to the witch assassin Grimalkin, probably the most fascinating character Delaney has created. And speaking of Delaney, he is also consistent with the characters’ voices. They each have their own manner of speaking, and it hasn’t changed from book to book.

Environment

We’re not clear where exactly the County is, whether it’s our world or an alternate version, or for that matter when the story takes place. Although Delaney’s descriptions are sparse, they are adequate. The intention is to keep the story moving fast. For example, Here’s a passage regarding Tom approaching Malkin Tower:

“We entered Crow Wood, and I saw the tower when we were still some distance away. It rose above the trees, dark and impressive like something made to withstand the assault of an army. Set within a clearing, on a slight elavation of ground, it was oval in shape, its girth at its widest point at least twice that of the Spook’s Chipenden house. The tower was three times the height of the largest of the surrounding trees and there were battlements on top, a low castellated wall for armed men to shelter behind. That meant there had to be a way up onto the roof from inside. About halfway up the wall there were also narrow windows without glass, slits in the stone through which an archer could fire.”

Magic is presented the same here as in the previous books. Witches cast spells or curses, with their power drawn from rituals and evil sources such as demons or the devil. Tom has no magic, although it is implied that he has a kind of sixth sense. Most of his counters to dark magic involve things like salt, silver, or rowan wood. It’s not clear, other than when Delaney explains it, how far apart places are, and how long it takes to get somewhere. There are no maps provided, except for a rough map of Pendle Hill in Tom’s journal. As with previous books, Tom’s journal in the back provides more detailed information on creatures, places, and history.

Opposition

Like previous books, the threat to Tom seems far more powerful than he. The methods in which Tom overcomes the opposition involve some smarts, some luck, and some help from others. But when Tom faces Grimalkin, he performs this miraculous act:

“What I did was not done consciously. I had no time to think. I made no decision. Some other part of me acted. I simply concentrated, my whole self focused on that spinning blade until time seemed to slow.”

I find this a little disconcerting. I realize that Delaney is establishing Tom’s “ability”, but it still feels like a Deus Ex Machina. The motivation of the opposition also does not make sense. The witches are trying to bring Old Nick into the world, despite the fact they will suffer just as much as anyone else. And I’m sure they could have thought of other ways to kill Tom. The timing of the coven’s power is related to the absence of Tom’s Mam, which seems logical.

Plot and Overall Impressions:

There are definitely some twists I didn’t see coming. I was a little put off by the ending, due to the deus ex machina device I mentioned above. In fact, I counted at least 3 deus ex machina devices in the last few chapters. However, the ending is not really happy, as things are certainly looking darker for Tom and the Spook.

All told, I enjoyed the book and will read it again someday, probably several years from now. A final note: the hardback comes in at 532 pages, but these books are smaller than normal hardbacks, and the typeface is fairly large. It’s still thicker than the last book (457 pages), and much thicker than the first book.

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment