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A nightmare come alive
on 10 August 2010
Whenever you get back from a vacation, it's always nice to get back home... unless soldiers have burned your home, and an evil witch is now on the loose. So you can guess what happens in "The Spook's Nightmare," a solid new chapter in the tale of the Spook's apprentice -- bits of horror speckling an darkly elusive fantasy story.
The Spook, Alice and Tom return to Chipenden... only to find that soldiers have burned the village, including the Spook's cottage. So the trio head off to find a safe place, and end up heading for the remote island of Mona, which isn't very witch/Spook-friendly. Soon Tom and Alice are imprisoned as witches, and are in danger of either being killed by a deadly test... or being eaten by a buggane.
However, that turns out to be only the start of their problems, since at least two witches are loose on Mona, and a demonic buggane is threatening them along with a shaman. And even worse, an old enemy has been brought to the island -- and she's more powerful now than she's ever been before, fulfilling the Spook's nightmare.
Joseph Delaney seems to have a knack for inserting very mundane fears -- the death of loved ones, being buried alive -- into a dark fantasy setting. And in "The Spook's Nightmare," it's all about suddenly losing your home and all your possessions, and being cast adrift in a cold cruel world. Plus evil witches causing trouble on top of that.
And the change of setting doesn't change Delaney's prose, which is surprisingly dark for a kids book. Blood, bones, straw and mud coat this adventure, as well as some monstrous creatures (the buggane is hairy, squat and oily, with two layers of omnivorous teeth). And there are some powerful moments, such as when poor Tom is being compelled to attack an innocent family of dogs.
The one problem is that Tom seems a LITTLE too calm about that whole soul-selling business, but otherwise the characterization here is pretty solid. But the kind-hearted apprentice and the strong-willed Alice are still likable leads, and Delaney has begun delicately introducing the questions of what toll age is bringing to the Spook -- his power is waning, and the loss of his treasured library is a massive shock.
"The Spook's Nightmare" is a solid new chapter to the tale of the Spook's apprentice, reintroducing us to a truly horrible enemy. And the door is still open for more.