Book Review: The Last Apprentice (Revenge of the Witch) by Joseph Delaney

I forget who (or what site) recommended this book, but I remember it promised a dark tale (fun for horror lovers) that was appropriate for a middle grade reader who liked creepy things. The book fits that promise. I’m reading more middle grade now in anticipation of my own kids wanting to read independently. When my three-year-old son (whose favorite holiday is Halloween) saw me reading it, he asked what the story was about, and he was intrigued.

The Last Apprentice follows twelve-year-old Tom, who is the seventh son of a seventh son, and as such, he is an appropriate apprentice for “The Spook,” a man whose job it is to “deal with” all manner of supernatural beings that plague humanity. The Spook has had several apprentices over the years, and it’s implied that they either left the trade or were killed after making too many mistakes: the witches and ghosts (and other supernatural enemies) are all dangerous.

Tom is not happy about his chosen role, but his older brother already has possession of his parents’ farm, and there isn’t much else left for him. Besides, we learn later that his mom (who has many hidden secrets that are only hinted at in this book) intentionally had seven children so that she could apprentice her seventh to The Spook. She hints at a darkness coming that her son will play a role in stopping.

The book builds in suspense in a steady way. For someone like me, who likes dark and spooky things and whose favorite season is Halloween, this would have been a perfect book for me as a young reader. There are black and white illustrations at the start of each chapter that provide shadowy clues as to what characters look like, but really the imagery of the novel carries the story. I can picture the creepiness of what Tom experiences in a way that isn’t too intense (for a kid), while at the same time allowing my imagination to run away with itself if I allow.

As a protagonist, Tom is only twelve, so his mistakes are excusable, but at the same time, there is that nice tension of the reader watching the character make mistakes that we know should have been avoided. The book builds to a nice conclusion while still leaving room for more (future works).

I did see that there was a movie made in 2014, but the movie itself received poor ratings, and the trailer makes it seem very different from the book. The book for me was great: atmospheric, moody, and focused on the world through the eyes of the twelve-year old protagonist. It’s a manageable amount of information for a middle grade reader while still keeping enough details to intrigue older readers like me.

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