Title: The Spook’s Apprentice
Author: Joseph Delaney
Publisher: Red Fox
Fantasy Books take many different forms, shapes and sizes. There are ones which involve a group of heroes or a solo hero going on an adventure, some which have the hero or heroes going into battle with malevolent villains and some which revolve around a real life location such as a school and then adapting it. However one area that appears to be relatively untouched is that of the world of work. Set in a fantasy location where the young hero must begin to learn his trade just so he can make a living.
Written in 2004 by Joseph Delaney and published by Red Fox, The Spook’s Apprentice (The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in America) is the first book in The Spook’s Series also known as The Wardstone Chronicles. The book follows the story of young Thomas Ward who is the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. His family agrees to have their son trained to be a Spook. The Spook is an old man who initially appears to be a bit grumpy and it is his job to take care of the things that go bump in the night such as Boggarts, Ghosts and Witches. He takes on Tom as his new apprentice and immediately starts to train him. Although initially tough, Tom continues along this career path, but it is not really the best time for him as the malevolent Witch Mother Malkin has returned, the most dangerous with in existence and the Spook now needs to train his new apprentice a lot quicker to be able to deal with this ancient threat.
I first heard about this book about just over a year ago. I was in Waterstones in Preston when I saw a sign indicating both the release of, Spook’s: Slither’s Tale and the announcement that the author was going to do a book signing. While I was looking for a different book, I asked about the series and what the first book was, thinking that I would give it a go. Much like GONE, it did take me some time to get into it. Eventually I started to read it on the train on my way into University and that is when I really got into it. I pretty much could not stop reading it, and when I finally finished it, I immediately went to Waterstones in Lancaster to pick up the next two books in the series.
The author has also drawn a lot of inspiration from the myths and legends as well as folklore of his surroundings. Joseph Delaney lives and works in my home county of Lancashire, which has a wide variety of folklore surrounding it. But it is not just the folklore of his surroundings, but also its views and its places. As you read the book and see what is being said you grab the identity of where all this is taking place with the use of the original/old-fashioned names for the places in the county used instead of what they are known as today.
It’s not just the county that he draws from but also his early life. While he was not trained to hunt for Witches, he was trained to be an apprentice engineer and it is through this experience which shows how he can relate to the work and characters he is writing because he has been in a similar position to his work and the characters he is writing. But unlike other fantasy setting which are made from the ground up, Delaney has taken the essence of his home county and put it all into writing for the enjoyment of others.
The book is told in the first person view with the character of Tom narrating his experiences as well as the people and things he encounters along the way. The other characters that tom speaks to are kept in context and speak but only from the point of view of Tom writing down what has happened in his Diary.
The Spook, while initially appearing to be a grumpy person is actually a very caring person and his grumpy nature which is initially shown, grows into more of a caring nature and very much cares for his Apprentice. Which with the position he holds is one of the few upsides. The people of the county appear to not like the Spook all that much as he is believed to have some connection with Dark Powers. This is something that gets attached to his new apprentice rather quickly. The Spook however does not appear to mind all that much as his age shows that of someone who knows better and from his own experience he can tell if someone is potentially good or bad, and one particular way he teaches this to Tom is to not trust girls with Pointy Shoes. Enter Alice, a mysterious girl with a dark upbringing who initially tricks tom into doing what she wants, however as the book develops it is clear that Alice’s apparent intentions are not quite as they appear to be.
The training and career path that is represented in this book also show the careful attention that the author has put into the book. The Spook tells Tom everything he knows, he shows him how to keep his note writing, how to identify and categorise each creature they encounter as well as the best ways to deal with the more dangerous species. The Spook also teaches Tom how to deal with people as well including how to interact with them. But the author keeps all this in nice, simplistic terms so that the young reader base does not get too confused.
What in one case could be considered as a lucky find also turns out to be one of the best books I have read most recently. With fantasy elements such as Ghosts and Witches as well as the real life connections such as the authors time as an apprentice and the area he lives in. While the book is written more for young children, it has been carefully constructed so that older reader can enjoy reading it too. With a film adaptation due for release next year it will be interesting to see how it compares to this, but whether or not the film is good or bad, it can’t take away the great magical feeling from this book.