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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2004
The Spook's Apprentice is a children's horror novel set in the time of the Pendle Witches. The eponymous Spook is a man whose job it is to protect the local villagers from witches, boggarts and all other evils, yet despite his invaluable service, he is shunned by all. After the death of his last apprentice, the Spook enrolls young Thomas Ward, who, being the seventh son of a seventh son is qualified for the position. However, he soon discovers that this is no mere accident of birth.
Thomas is left the entire night in a haunted house as a kind of initiation into his new job. The twist in this scene is perhaps a little too obvious. Thomas progresses with his lessons - but before long, the Spook is called away on an urgent matter in Pendle, and rather recklessly leaves his inexperienced young apprentice behind. During his absence, Thomas makes a rash promise to Alice (a girl with pointy shoes), and is tricked into releasing Old Mother Malkin, who was buried alive as punishment for killing the villagers' children and drinking their blood.
Once she is free, Thomas's problems really begin - and it seems that the only person he can turn to for help is the one who got him in this mess ... Alice. Alice is perhaps the most interesting character in the book. The reader is never certain whether she is to be trusted or not. Is she as well-intentioned as she claims, acting under duress - or is she an evil scheming trickster out to lure Thomas to the same bloodthirsty fate as the previous apprentice?
'Not to be read after dark,' it says on the back cover. Perhaps it's not quite as scary as the publishers would have you believe - but it's still sufficiently chilling for most young readers. Certainly not suitable for those under 8 or 9, or those prone to nightmares, as some of the imagery is quite intense: (ghosts of dying soldiers hung on a tree - a witch who wants to drink a new born baby's blood - a boy who has his fingers cut/chewed off by a boggart, and many others). However, if you're 13 or older and enjoy something on the gruesome side, this is an adventurous tale with many a cliff-hanger.
It's somewhat difficult to settle on a star rating for this book. To be honest, this kind of dark horror is not to my tastes; I prefer my fantasy reading material to be a little more light-hearted - preferably with a few laughs. However, putting that aside, I award 4 stars for the quality of writing. This is a well-written novel, briskly paced and with some good characterization. For those who live in Lancashire, the local history of the Pendle Witches may be of particular interest - but this book may well appeal to any teen with morbid or gothic tastes.
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on 5 September 2005
If you're an adult, don't dismiss these books as simply 'kid's stuff'!
I'm nearly 43, and I was as captivated by the Ward Chronicles, as my 15 yr old daughter and sons of 11 and eight years. These books have much to offer an adult audience.
The plots are fast-moving, brilliantly written and, above all, totally enthralling. Joseph Delaney is an imaginative author, who makes it impossible to put down his stories once you've picked them up.
Even as an adult, it was easy to slip into young Tom Ward's mind, and really see the events from his viewpoint. Or, perhaps having a more experienced imagination just adds to the thrills!
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This is not "high fantasy" with world building, heroic characters, and profound quests. At least not in the early volumes. The County Spook deals with the mundane tasks of keeping witches and boggarts and the like in line. There are creatures and spirits and practitioners of the black arts out there, and sometimes they misbehave or leave their territory and have to be trapped, relocated or dispatched. It's sort of like being an officer of the Department of Wildlife, spooky division.

The main characters are the Spook, Thomas his new apprentice, and Alice, the young witch with the pointy shoes who could go either good or bad, but who is also a budding love interest for our young apprentice. The Spook has a fair-but-firm grumpy vibe that suits the story. Thomas is bright, honest, loyal and prone to youthful error. He is an insightful and trustworthy narrator, and a good fit as the hero the reader can identify with. Alice is well above the normal girl/sidekick. She is shrewder than Thomas, and more mature. She knows more about witchcraft. As the series develops she will become a more and more important character. (The best part of this is that Alice is a fine protagonist for girls to identify with, and she is certainly a character who holds her own with the Spook and Thomas.)

The book is unique because it tries to present a sense of the work-a-day world of spook busting. Thomas has to learn about the habits of creatures, how to trap and hold them, how to be a spook. He practices skills, digs pits and traps, and generally lives the life of an apprentice. He does a lot of bag carrying as the Spook moves from job to job. While it's fantasy of course, it feels like an introduction to an authentic life.

The larger appeal of the book, and the whole series, is that as time passes the Spook becomes a fully realized character. Thomas begins to grow up. Alice becomes a much more intriguing force. The series is involving from this character development point of view, and the odd blend of spirited fantasy and matter-of-factness creates a really compelling narrative.
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on 4 July 2012
My 9 year old daughter started reading Spooks, and she raved about it so now I have been reading them too.

The strength of these books lies in the fantastic storytelling of teh author who spins a tail that really will achieve that suspenful state of tension that will delight younger readers. For adults too, the story is well written and never becomes tedious. Good interesting stuff.

The stories are quite original, and well constructed, but not of great depth, and some of the themes feel like they are aimed at an older age group than 9, although the stories are perhaps not sufficiently complex to be branded young adult. Nevertheless I have a hard time recommending them to 9 year olds because while this first one is just fine, there are theems in some of the later books that are downright disturbing. Without wishing to write spoilers it is hard to go into details, but there is one particular theme, several books into the series, that led me to speak to teh school about placing these in an older section of the school library. The only time I have ever behaved like such an interfering parent! So please don't hold that against me.

My recommendation is that children and young adults 11 and up would love this series.
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THE SPOOK'S APPRENTICE is the debut novel by Joseph Delaney. The story is about Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son. Tom's father finds him work as an apprentice to the Spook - which is similar to an exorcist - someone who deals with witches, boggarts and ghosts, etc. While Tom is training with the Spook, he is tricked into freeing the evil witch, Mother Malkin, from her pit in the Spook's garden. Tom then has to use what little knowledge he has in order to try and stop Mother Malkin from causing horror. This is something he largely has to do alone, as Mother Malkin's surviving relatives devise a rouse to get the Spook away from his house, leaving Tom alone. However, Tom does have one possible helper; although it is the most unlikely of freinds. . .
That is a very brief synopsis of the book, as I don't want to give too much away and ruin the book for future readers.
The brilliance of Delaney's book lies in the exploration of good and evil, and especially how 'innocents' may be wicked. Delaney explores this complex theme mainly through the character of Alice; a young girl who tries to befriend Tom; a girl who wears pointy shoes ( the Spook warned Tom against such girls, saying they are not to be trusted ).
The book also looks at the subject of fear - how it manages to take hold of us and why. As Tom begins to learn, for example, the Spook's job is a lonely one, as many people fear what they have to do for their living. Solitude is part of the life - people fear them and consequently they are left alone, something which can be fearsome in it's own right, especially for a young boy trying to learn the skills of the trade whilst having to face evil.
This really is a fantastic book - both adults and children can easily enjoy what this book has to offer. It is original, unpretentious, and cleverly written. Highly recommended.
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on 2 February 2016
It's a very good read. It's dark, gritty and bewitching, and the characterisation is often good. But the characterisation isn't ALWAYS as good as it could be. I mean, James Ward's mum; PLEASE, she's SO cheesy! And even the spook himself has a wavering moment or three. In fact, to be honest, EVERY character in this story is flawed in one way or another. Perhaps one of the most serious characterisation flaws is when James randomly throws up for absolutely no reason whatsoever. "Oh yeah, I've just faced a dangerous supernatural being. They haven't messed with my gastric system in any way, shape or form, but I think I need to randomly puke my guts out anyway." Perhaps Joseph was under a time constraint to get this novel finished or something, so he couldn't find time to get the novel polished as thoroughly as it could have been. All that said, the thrilling standards of this book are very, very good. The supernatural phantoms that James and Spook have to face are all very sharply thrilling. Actually, I say James AND Spook, but in pretty much every crunch scene in this book, I never once see the spook come to James's aid. Okay, I admit that being a spook is a hard job, but you don't go blundering off, abandoning your faithful apprentice and leaving them at the mercy of an intensely haunted cottage and a highly deranged psycho lady who wants his blood; idiot! Another slightly more minor - but still noteworthy - flaw that I noticed was the storyline. I thought that there was too much emphasis on the emotional, soppy side of things, (i.e. the scenes relating to James and his family), and not enough emphasis on the elements that I'd say REALLY MATTER, (i.e. the dangerous supernatural beings that are suposedly at large). I'll forgive Delaney for that now though, because perhaps with this first installment he's just setting the scene a bit, and saving the more relentlessly exciting stuff for later works in the franchise. Anyhow, despite the SERIOUS flaws present at every stage in this story, the plot is very intriguing, and the scares and thrills really are something to behold. Anyone with any interest in the supernatural, betwixed fantasy, should really enjoy it.
Reviewed by Arron S. Munro.
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Having become very interested in this series having read the Spook Bestiary, I really was excited when the whole lot landed for pure delectation on the build up to the holiday period. Not sure what to expect I cracked open the first cover (after dark as I was feeling brave) and started the title. A few hours later I closed the last page and had the opportunity to consider what I'd read prior writing this review.

What occurs within this, the first book in Joseph's Wardstone series, is a title that not only introduces the darker world beneath our own to the reader but does it in such a way that it's a journey of discovery along with the stories principle character. It's definitely fun, it's definitely a story that will grip the reader and above all else for those who live within a certain county, a lot of it is easily recognisable.

Add to this a gripping story, a great sense of pace and some top notch dialogue and the reader really does have a great treat ahead. If the other titles build as much as this one has, you know that its going to be something really special to enjoy especially during a holiday period when the dark nights creep in with those noises outside could be a boggart or two on their own forays into the towns.
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on 19 June 2014
To be honest I was getting a little bit fed up with this genre, but I was persuaded to read this one. Its good no its very good. Well written original and some interesting characters, not to many characters or long lists that you have to refer to on a regular basis. I have bought the next one in the series and hope that the quality continues. Highly recommended!
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on 7 November 2004
This is a gem of a book.
Delightful reading for adults and children alike (although not to be recommended for those under ten or of a nervous disposition), the engaging story will have you reading late into the night if your're brave enough to cast aside the author's warning not to read this after dark. Personally I couldn't resist, but then once I had started reading I found it impossible to put the book down. From the moment the story begins the reader becomes thoroughly enthralled with tale of Thomas Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son who is sent away to train to be the Spook's apprentice. This is by no means an easy task, and soon we are submerged in a world of witches, boggarts and girls with pointy shoes, meeting unexpected and captivating twists and turns along the way. Just one more word of warning in addition to the author's: be prepared to be thoroughly entertained.
Highly recommended.
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on 25 February 2011
I've entitled my review 'Adventures for boys!!' as I initially bought this book to encourage my 11 year old son to read. However I am sure that girls with a sense of adventure would love this book too - I certainly would have.

The story follows a Spook ( a person who works to remove evil from an area). His job might involve ridding an area of a malevolent witch or boggart or simply calming restless spirits. In this book the Spook is taking on his last apprentice, a seventh son of a seventh son and it is his adventures that we follow in the book.

My son likes history and although this book does not specify a date, it feels like pre-Victorian possibly early industrialisation. Mention is made of ghosts from a civil war but whether this is the Wars of the Roses or the later Civil War of Roundheads and Cavaliers I was not sure.

We are reading the book together and both enjoy the sense of suspense built by the author and are pulled from chapter to chapter.
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