Friday, April 8, 2011

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Thomas Delaney

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney
ISBN: 0060766204
Greenwillow Books, 2006
384 p.

Plot Summary: Thomas is the seventh son of a seventh son and in his world, he must be an apprentice. His other brothers already have most of the occupations so the only one left is to be the apprentice of the Spook, a warlock-type man who scares off apparitions and deals with witches. Thomas moves in with the Spook, who teaches him all about boggarts and witches. In town, Thomas meets a young woman named Alice who makes him promise to feed a witch three cakes. The cakes make the witch strong enough to escape and now Thomas, without the help of the Spook, must fight her and decide whether Alice is a benign or malevolent witch.

Critical Analysis: The most striking part of The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch is the book's design. The font and black and white illustrations meld together and subtly bring the reader to this medieval fantasy world. The illustrations are not unlike Edward Gorey's or Dave McKean's most recently seen in The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. There is also a glossary in the back that gives the book the feel of a magical tome or guide, just the type an apprentice might carry around.

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch is also one of the scarier books I have read in a while, Delaney pulls no punches. The descriptions of witches especially, some of whom feast on blood and bones, were chilling. Witches are buried in deep graves with bars over them and Thomas must of course cross over these in the dark of night many times. The descriptions and feeling of dread came of the pages quite well.

This is Delaney's debut book and unfortunately, it shows. Parts of the book have too much detail and some have too little. Like most fantasy books, too much time was spent walking! Interesting world-building details like information on boggarts and the Spook profession are skipped over quickly in conversation. Delaney successfully built a world interesting enough that the reader would like to hear more about, he just needs to fulfill that wish.

Reader's Annotation: Thomas is the seventh son of a seventh son. Now he must combat witches, boggarts, and apparitions sooner than he'd imagined.

Author Information: "Joseph Delaney is a retired English teacher living in Lancashire. His home is in the middle of Boggart territory and his village has a boggart called the Hall Knocker, which was laid to rest under the step of a house near the church."


Genre: fantasy, horror

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Did Thomas make the right choice at the end of the book regarding Alice?

How did Thomas grow emotionally throughout the book?

Interest Level/Reading Age: Ages 12-14

Challenge Issues: witchcraft, minor violence

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: Due to the art, I found this book particularly eye-catching. It was a fast and entertaining read with legitimately scary sequences. Although it is the first in a long series, it was a satisfying standalone so it could fulfill the role of an introduction to a good series or just an entertaining diversion. It is also one of the better Harry Potter readalikes I have come across.

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