Genre: YA Fantasy/Horror
Publisher: Random House (April 17, 2009)
Length: 336 pages
Spook’s Apprentice is such a quaint English tale that it almost disarms you when the real horror begins.
Spook’s is a YA debut novel by Jospeh Delaney, so I’ll be fine *crosses heart*. Spook’s is one of those a-typical British fantasy novels, where it takes a lot of influences through the English countryside and English mannerisms (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis etc). It reminded me of sitting in front of the TV when I was 10, watching The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe being scared half to death while using the cushion as a shield against the evil things – the oxymoron here was that I couldn’t keep my eyes off what was happening, so I had to watch it. In some ways this novel is similar. Much to my surprise there is no real structural fantasy like you find in most of the genre. Magic isn’t a thing – the powers we find are more apotropaic (I’ve the Eye of Horus tattooed on my right arm, it’s a load of cods-wallop!) and natural magic – so fundamental interaction. Like a natural remedy your mum or nan might have given you when you were a kid (for example – thyme has natural antibiotic/septic in it, Lemon for stings and some burns etc).
Before we begin properly, there are some things you need to know. Read and learn –
Rules to become a Spook’s apprentice –
- Always rely on your own two feet.
- Woolly socks and comfortable boots will be needed.
- Always write down what you see, hear and do.
- Compliment the cook from time to time.
- There are many types of Boogarts’ – hairy, free and bound. Some like to cook!
- There are many types of witches –malevolent, free, unaware and bound – don’t trust the ones with pointy shoes!
- How to artificially bind a Boogart – a stone the size of the Boogart Iron and blood to attract the damn thing. Lots of luck!
Now you get an idea, the ‘magic’ is all rather quaint, but when it comes to the actuality of dealing with something, it doesn’t feel right. Why? Mainly because I’m use to the protagonist walking up to something so meaningless and whacking him with some kind of Earth shattering spell – just because he can. That doesn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy Spook’s Apprentice far from it my dear fellow, it’s a jolly tale!
As you can guess a Spook deals with what lurks within the dark! They aren’t the most popular of folks, it’s a lonely life. One that Thomas (or Tom) finds himself thrust into. Being the seventh son of the seventh son is a real bugger – he was made for this, in more ways than one. His mother (who I suspect is a witch herself – if that is a spoiler, I apologies, but it feels like an uneducated guess! I’ve not actual met any witches.) made sure to have seven sons for this reason.
Lovely – so the story itself revolves around Tom and his tutor Mr. Spook (he doesn’t have a name yet, so Mr. seemed fitting) giving him lessons on what to do and not what to do as a Spook. Tom has to grow up in a short space of time and face ‘things’ that he is in no way prepared for – including trusting women with pointy shoes! I know, he did what he wasn’t meant to do! The tale really begins to take a darker turn once Alice, Bony Lizzie and Old Mother Malkin, all witches of varied sorts – it’s like a pick-a-mix of witches here. I was completely unprepared for those cakes which were supposedly made from the blood of babies – blimey! It was all Tom’s fault, see he did something behind the Spook’s back, he made a promise to a witch and was bound to follow through with it. Why did he follow through with it? Well, because he is both an idiot and gentleman at the same time.
Now the back of the book does say “don’t read this after dark” – I can see why it might have that warning. Spook’s Apprentice does get jumpy in parts, to my delight. I’m a big fan of that in literature as it hardly happens to me reading a book. Some of the characters are eerily dark as well. Mother Malkin really is a match for some of those twisted witches from ancient Greek mythology (Erichtho, Graeae/Morai and Hecate – Erichtho especially is a twisted one, according to Professor Daniel Ogden anyway – yes I studied a module called The Dark Arts – Magic & Witchcraft back in the day). Malkin’s sister, Bony Lizzie is mentioned in the novel often, but hardly seen until the end – sometimes the unseen but heard-of has ample affect to cause fear. Alice is the daughter of Bony Lizzie, she becomes paramount in the story and certainly gets Tom involved deeper than he would have liked. I liked Alice, but then again I liked Mother Malkin for her unholy vigour – a nice balance between an evil witch and a witch growing up plays out.
What you don’t get with Spook’s Apprentice are profound quests, a world-spanning adventure. The Spook’s are just there, because no one else can and will do the tasks they do. Possibly because it reads like bloody hard work and haphazard at times. It’s a rather unique fantasy novel in that respect. I can see why they changed the film adaptation from the novel so much – it’s a slow burner in comparison. But why rush the read, I find it hard to swallow those writers who shove everything down your throat within twenty pages, literally. No I’d rather savour the meal, in that I’d have a better recollection of what happened. Some writers are guilty of this. Whether it is because readers are impatient and are catering towards that audience or it’s just the way they write – it’s a difficult one to say for sure. I would like to think, on a whole, that readers these days can still use their imagination and not have to have the writers’ creativity forced upon them in a lazy way. Can I fault the writer for that? No, not by a long shot. Are there any faults with the novel – plenty, but this was a debut novel, so nit-picking just seems like I’m being petty.
I was summarizing there and went slightly (WAY) off-track. Spook’s Apprentice is a child’s tale, some of the best stories I’ve heard stem from children stories – I know I was scared, but in equal measure excited by such yarns when I was a nipper. Joseph Delaney has some special with The Wardstone’s Chronicles and I cannot wait until the next in the series (well I think there are currently 9-10 out, so lots to read).
Contributed by Stuart West.
About Stuart (In his own words):
Stuart: Well I’m a contributor towards Bookwraiths content. When it comes to writing reviews I like to think I’m sat chatting with someone rather than at them; so my style can be conversational and abrasive at times. Read at your own peril!
In the 80s I grew up with books such as; The Famous Five and Secret Seven throw in an uncle who was obsessed with comics such as; The Beano, Topper, Asterix and Obelix, Batman and The Incredible Hulk. You’ll get some idea of the adventures that I got up to.
I’m all about fiction that doesn’t hold any punches that gets stuck in and takes you on a ride where terminal velocity means your fingers are going to burn the pages as you turn them. Apply Aloe Vera where needed! Favourite current authors include (how long do you have?) Dan Abnett, Jame Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow and Anthony Ryan.
Outside of reading I’m a big fan of Rugby Union, I play and watch. I live in the United Kingdom and have two nephews to put through super heroes’ school. I’ve not told them I’m the anti-hero of the story yet.