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…

Advertisements

Book Review: Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney

I’m moving on from the structured review to 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 a lot 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, and it was incredible. Call it a high point, or a milestone in Delaney’s writing – I wish there were more of these moments.

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┬áthe 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…

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. I’ll use my list once more to demonstrate my different approach between a simple page turner like this book and the epic saga that is Gardens of the Moon, the previous review.

Pacing & Structure

Like the previous books in this 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 that were quicker. 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.