Revenge of the Witch (Spook’s Apprentice #1) by Joseph Delaney
Publication: HarperCollins (September 6, 2005), Hardcover, 368 pages / ISBN 0060766182
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Challenges: Read Your Own Books 2009 (#22)
First sentence: When the Spook arrived, the light was already beginning to fail.
In one sentence: Exciting and scary and a wonderful start to a series.
I spotted Revenge of the Witch amongst a selection of sale books on Bookcloseouts.com (my one true weakness). It sounded interesting, so I bought it. Little did I know that I’d end up liking it so much!
Summary from Amazon:
Driving away ghosts
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.
Can Thomas succeed? Will he learn the difference between a benign witch and a malevolent one? Does the Spook’s warning against girls with pointy shoes include Alice? And what will happen if Thomas accidentally frees Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the county … ?
Revenge of the Witch is an excellent first book. It’s got a lot of oomph: it’s exciting and spooky and seriously compelling, and even though it has some rough spots it still manages to make me love it.
It reminds me of a mix between the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books (even the illustrations are reminiscent of them) and the Septimus Heap series. I’m not spooked easily, but, seriously: Mr. Delaney manages to keep this tension throughout the book that even when nothing is really happening I still feel right on the edge. It moves quicker than the Septimus Heap books do, and though maybe the characters aren’t as vibrant as in those books they’re still quite interesting. And enigmatic! Just about the only person who isn’t full of mysteries is Tom, and while you may think that sort of thing gets annoying, I find it kinda fun to try and put pieces of a person’s life together and figure out who they are.
Like the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, Revenge of the Witch is a little darker than your typical YA fantasy book, and I really liked that. It makes it scarier and more exciting! Just be sure to, er, read the book in the daylight– I’m an adult and I still got really spooked reading Revenge of the Witch at night. 😀
The only thing I didn’t like about Revenge of the Witch was Tom’s proclivity for explaining away his action by saying something like “what choice do I have” when most of the time he does have some sort of choice, he just always picks the wrong one. Hello! Start acknowledging your mistakes beyond “oh darn, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” Start being proactive! Stop being stupid! Geeze.
Also, and I’m likely to bring this up again in later reviews of this series, but I can’t help but feel uncomfortable that nearly all the baddies Tom and the Spook trap seem to be either genderless ghosts or female witches. Where’s the male baddies? Why do they only seem to be imprisoning women when there must be a few evil men running around? It’s kinda creepy, actually, especially when you consider that there doesn’t seem to be any female Spooks working, either. Luckily there’s two strong female characters, Alice and Tom’s mom, who are both magic-y but good, that kinda balances things out, and in later books the imprisonment of female witches is talked about more (plus more strong female characters show up), but still. Creepy, and slightly disappointing. I don’t think kids will necessarily notice this, but it could make for an interesting discussion.
But besides that– really fun, exciting book that I’d heartily recommend. If you have an opportunity to check out the Last Apprentice series, do it. You won’t regret it!
Note: The Last Apprentice series has quite a few names, depending on where you live. If you’re in the UK Revenge of the Witch is known as The Spook’s Apprentice. Apparently the US version was changed slightly from the UK version– typical phrase/slang rewriting that I abhor– so if you want the original, unchanged version go for the UK one.