Book Review: I Am Alice by Joseph Delaney

i am aliceFormat:  hard cover, first edition, 2013

Pages:  432

Reading Time:  about 7 hours

 

I Am Alice is the 12th book in Joseph Delaney’s Last Apprentice Series. It’s been over 5 years since I reviewed the previous book, Slither. Delaney continues his detour away from his protagonist, Tom, to explore the adventures of Alice as she ventures into the dark to find a blade that Tom will use to cut off her thumbs and cut out her heart in a sacrificial rite that will stop the evil Fiend. No, I am not making that up. I’ve grown tired of this series but with only this book and the next to finish, I thought I’d get one step closer to the end. I don’t think there are very many people who are still paying attention to this series, but I did manage to find a couple of reviews, which I’ve summarized below, and after that are my own thoughts, which are chock full of minor spoilers and one great big one. If you don’t want spoilers, it’s probably best to skip to the last sentence…

 

Karissa of Hidden in Pages is ready to get to the final battle, but had a positive review, stating: “Through most of the book all I could think was “poor Alice”. She has a very heartbreaking past…this girl has got to have the worst luck of any heroine I have ever read about. Then you get to the present and Alice’s journey through the Dark. Poor Alice has to face things no one should have to face. She has to face enemies that she’s already vanquished and deal with their hatred for her part in their deaths. Things just get worse and worse for her as the book goes on. Then you remember that she is doing all of this to retrieve a dagger that will be used to maim and kill her as a sacrifice to destroy the Fiend. It makes you even sadder. That’s not to say that this is an especially depressing read. It is one of the darkest book in the series. However, Alice faces her miserable circumstances with a surprisingly practicality and a resilient attitude. She is incredibly brave and incredibly determined to not succumb to the Dark.”

Jade Cranwell of nudge-book reviewed the UK version (titled Spook’s: Alice): “Alice, loyal companion of Tom and the Spook, gets straight down the business; travelling into the realm of ‘The Dark’ to find the third object needed by the Spook and his apprentice, Tom, in order to destroy their greatest enemy, The Fiend. The Dark is not a place anyone would want to go – a place where the non-human folk end up when they die on Earth. It just so happens that Alice has done her fair share of killing some on the more dangerous and evil creatures over the year – or at least been a helping hand – and by travelling into their realm, they finally have the chance to take their revenge. This makes for a bad situation for Alice but a brilliant, action-packed story for the reader! Alice not only encounters past threats but also takes readers down memory lane by revisiting her childhood through an encounter with a particular enemy….as always, Delaney is able to effortlessly create an atmospheric world fit for witches and other such unsavory creatures that I have grown to love so much.”

 

During the 5 year gap in my reviews of Slither and I Am Alice, a movie was released called Seventh Son that was supposed to be loosely based on this series. The movie was quite terrible and had very little in common with the books, other than the names of the characters. Apparently the dollar signs Delaney saw when optioning his book for the big screen outweighed any creative control he might have exerted in making sure the movie stayed true to the books. Allowing his series to be turned into another forgettable Hollywood dud does not reflect well on the fact that a decent movie might have steered new fans towards his books. And while I can appreciate Delaney wanting to tell stories through different viewpoints, as the two previous stories Grimalkin and Slither have done, I Am Alice feels like a money grab more closely related to the movie than the series itself.

The prose and tone of this book are fairly consistent with previous entries. Due to the large text the pages fly by fairly quickly. I have always liked the character of Alice; she’s strong, brave, and loyal to Tom, and a book that focuses on her should be a joy to read, but there are a number of missteps to be found in I Am Alice. Since witches and evil creatures go to the Dark when they die, it gave Delaney a chance to bring all of his villains back for a greatest hits, gauntlet-like run that Alice must endure to find the dagger she needs. It also re-introduces the character of Thorne, Grimalkin’s former apprentice. You could argue either way as to whether seeing these characters again is a good or bad thing – either you enjoy getting to see familiar faces, or are disappointed to revisit more of the same. However, a couple of the villains do not appear in any previous stories. The introduction of these new villains causes Delaney to divert from the present tale by employing flashbacks to fill in Alice’s backstory, and her relationship with these evil beings. The problem for me was that these two flashbacks took up 218 pages of a 432 page book – over 50% of the book is spent going back to the past. The flashbacks are important in establishing Alice’s character, but we are 12 books into the series…does a flashback of this length really need to be done? Shouldn’t this have been done several books ago? It feels a lot like fluff.

Another problem is that some of Alice’s problems are solved by deus ex machina. Just when it looks like Alice has no chance of survival, something comes along to turn the tables just in time. The worst instance is during a showdown between Alice, Thorne, and several water witches. Alice and Thorne are saved by skelts, bug-like creatures with long snouts that use those snouts to pierce their victims and drink their blood. The skelts leave Alice and Thorne alone and go after the witches, then guide the two girls to the Fiend’s throne room. This is after some other skelts tried to kill them in another part of the Dark. Why did they save Alice and Thorne? Alice postulates that maybe these skelts are different and don’t want to serve the Fiend. Since the skelts up to this point have been nothing but mindless creatures who are caged by witches and released to drink the blood of victims, this explanation makes no sense.

What I can say, without reservation, is that the worst part of the book is on page 427, just 5 pages from the end, when Alice is reunited with Grimalkin, who states:

The bad news is that you didn’t need to journey into the dark after all. The dagger you hold is not needed. You risked your life and very soul for nothing.

Wait a minute – Delaney just told the reader that none of what they just read matters? Are you kidding me?! Who does that?! It means the only purpose of this story is to get Alice close enough to the Dark so that she can turn into some evil creature in the last book. Talk about a forced plot point!

I’m so glad there’s only one more book to go. I’ve had enough of this series…

Fun Fact: Alicia Vikander, who played Alice in Seventh Son, is now starring as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot…

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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 plot. 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 and 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.

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…