Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch was exactly what I needed during Ice Storm 2010. Delaney submerged me immediately into fantastical 16th-17th Century England. His hero, Thomas Ward, is the seventh son of a seventh son and he’s apprenticing with Old Gregory the Spook. Old Gregory deals with any erstwhile witches, boggarts, and other such ghastly creatures that put county residents in peril. Gregory’s time as Spook won’t last forever. Now the big question is, how long will Thomas last as his apprentice?
Joseph Delaney taught English before beginning his career as a novelist. Revenge of the Witch is his first children’s novel, and he wastes no time proving that he can tell a great story. The world is rich and vivid, and it’s no surprise that Delaney based the setting on the area in England where he lives. From the very first page of the story, I was hooked. Delaney speaks through his thirteen year old protagonist without sounding forced. As a graduate student in my (hopefully) final semester of college, I thought that a spooky fantasy novel aimed for a younger audience would be simplistic and somehow beneath me. But somewhere between the ghast (a ghostlike remainder of a departed soul) of a murderous miner and the witch Bony Lizzie’s manky breath, I remembered that deep down I’m a complete coward.
I loved that Thomas stuck to his own sense of right and wrong even though in several instances he contradicted his Master’s opinion. If somebody told me not to go into the forest because there’s a witch locked up alive in a hole in the ground, I wouldn’t be tempted to go there for any reason. Not even on a bet. And I definitely wouldn’t feel sorry for the old hag. But that’s why Thomas is the Spook’s apprentice and I’m the one sitting up at three in the morning reading about him.
I’m glad I came to this series when six books are already in print. If I had to wait for the next book to come out, it would be an impatient wait. Delaney tied up the main story questions, but he also planted the seeds for a great series. Thomas, his mother, Old Gregory, and Alice are all characters I want to know more about.
For fans of spooky witch and ghoul fantasy novels, this is a great series. It would also satisfy any fans of master/apprentice stories who might want a change from the page/squire/knight/wizard blueprint. My fiancé even picked the book up, and he’s usually not much of a fiction reader unless it’s something post-apocalyptic and utterly depressing. Revenge of the Witch has definitely earned its place on my shelf. I can’t wait to plug in a couple of night lights and pick up the next volume of the series.