Creepy at its Best: A Review of The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch

Revenge of the Witch (2006)
Written By: Joseph Delaney
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Pages: 384 (Paperback)
Series: The Last Apprentice
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Why I Chose It: I’ve been trying to branch out a bit more in my reading lately. I tend to stick to genres I already know because I’m boring like that. So, I’m challenging myself to leave safe behind and what better month to read something creepy than October? And since I’m kind of a wimp I’m starting with Middle Grade.

The Premise:

For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried — some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive.

Only Thomas Ward is left. He’s the last hope, the last apprentice.

Spoiler Free!


Discussion: I don’t have a lot of experience with horror. I’m not even sure if this counts. Every time I pick up something that I think is horror it turns out to be something more along the lines of dark fantasy. But whatever the accepted genre requirements are, I imagine a story should elicit a feeling of dread (or horror, duh) as its main tone. And Revenge of the Witch did just that. From the very first page Delaney manages to make creepy into an art form. And it’s something woven throughout the entire book with the ghosts of dead soldiers swinging from trees and witches who eat children.

Even when Tom is home and safe there’s just enough of a discordant note in the background to make you glance behind you while you read. I loved the way Delaney twisted both Tom’s expectations and ours to make his happy family seem just the slightest bit off.

It’s a rare book that can get my heart rate going, and there were multiple points that made me glad I was reading during the day. In the sunlight. The main bad guys were a family of witches, and these weren’t the wand-carrying children of Harry Potter or Terry Pratchett’s hilarious trio. These witches were out for blood. Literally the blood and bones of children. Even the Spook lecturing Tom about them in broad daylight was scary. Of course, that was probably because they were standing over a grave where a witch had been buried upside down so she couldn’t climb back out again. I mean, climb back out? Geez, how do you get rid of these women if death doesn’t slow them down? Mindless zombies are one thing. Undead witches are entirely another.

But as creepy as the book was and as evil as its antagonists were, it still had a good amount of hope and light. I loved Tom and the way he spent the story learning about courage and the right way to be afraid. He respects his master, but he doesn’t blindly believe everything the Spook has to say. Especially regarding women. The moment Tom realized he wasn’t just a seventh son of a seventh son, he was also his mom’s son was probably my favorite because it was where he realized that it was her legacy and her upbringing that made him special.

And kudos to Joseph Delaney. Even with a male protagonist there were some fairly good examples of strong female characters. Between Tom’s mother and Alice, the almost-witch, two of the three characters with the most influence over Tom were women.

And I loved that while the Spook definitely stands for good against evil, Delaney made it obvious that the world isn’t usually that simple. Alice especially brings out the underlying idea that someone could be both, sometimes good and sometimes bad. And Tom comes to realize that just because sometimes they choose bad doesn’t make the good they’ve done mean nothing. Delaney doesn’t sugarcoat any of it, even for a middle grade audience. Tom has to make some pretty hard choices between bad and worse based on incomplete information. He is, after all, only an apprentice. But his desire to choose what’s right is what makes him heroic.

In Conclusion: I’m really excited to continue this series and not just because they’re an easy read. I want to see Tom grow into his role, and there’s a ton of lore hinted at that I’d love to explore. Like Tom’s mom. Who is she? What is she? I have my guesses but we’ll see if I’m right.

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