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Written as memory from the first person perspective of the central protagonist, the book tells the story of how Tom, the seventh son of a seventh son, is taken on as the apprentice of a ‘Spook’: a hunter and exterminator of dangerous magical creatures. While he’s promised the pay is good, the job is hard and the life is lonely. After weeks of studying, Tom begins to wonder whether the job’s really for him, when he gets his first taste of action: having been tricked into releasing a powerful witch, Mother Malkin, from her prison. With a witch on the loose baying for blood, it’s a race against time for Tom to take up his duties and recapture her before it’s too late.
I think what I most like about this book, and indeed what makes it stand out from other sequential children’s fantasy series, is its refreshing nonchalant tone. Throughout the book, Tom describes some really brutal horrors including being almost buried alive, possession, and even cannibalism. And while he does manage to convey a sense of terror and repulsion at these things, there’s casualness in the way he reiterates his adventures, which I found really cool, as it’s a tone not often used in children’s books. It makes it feel as though Tom is telling us these adventures over dinner and helps to create an emotional tie with him as a protagonist.
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The book itself is written in a very easy and accessible prose that is balanced well between action and exposition. While there aren’t a lot of secondary characters and sidekicks to strengthen to emotional journey (which is honestly in keeping with the Spooks’ life being a lonely one) I still found myself absolutely powering through pages. For lovers of children’s fantasy, I would recommend.
Author: Joseph Delaney, 2004
Published: Bodley Head, Great Britain, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.
Chronicle: The Spook’s Apprentice is the first book in The Wardstone Chronicles series.