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82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
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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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2012
First off, I'm an adult. I bought this book due to my interest in Lancashire history and folklore. The first thing that struck me is that it's actually quite scary. I found myself turning the pages rapidly and got the end in no time.

In an adult novel I'd have liked to see more description, but as a children's story Delaney certainly knows how to tell a good story. Meshing together local myths about boggarts and witchcraft with Lancashire's hills and farms and alot of imagination this book is a non stop adventure.

I felt alot of sympathy for Thomas, the protagonist. He doesn't want to be the spook's apprentice yet he is determined to make it his career in spite of the hardship. What struck me most was his growing loneliness and the sacrifices he has to make to continue in his job, in particular the effects on his family life. He's a very mature boy and makes some tough choices. He messes up and makes amends.

This is a dark book and unlike in Harry Potter, there are no minor characters to bring any light. Alice, who I imagine is a future love interest, poses only more trouble. As in Wuthering Heights, the bleakness of the mood suits the landscape.

I only intended to read this first book. Now I'm hooked and have just sent off for the next one!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.

Definitely worth consideration.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 2015
Allow me to just say, I am biased. This book was bought for me a long time ago, when it was first published, and I have been hooked ever since. I still am...I'm 22. I am an avid reader, but I consistently return to this series of books, I simply love the story of Tom Ward and his mysterious master, The Spook.

I'm not going to give you a point by point run down of the plot, you haven't got time for that! But let me say, if you're looking for a book that gives you the odd creep, the odd, 'Oh jeeze what is down there', then this is your book. Being from the East Midlands, the colloquial, almost old English language in this book makes me feel at home and almost adds to its charm. It's an easy book to read despite this, don't be put off if you're a Southerner! It sounds daft and almost juvenile, but the font is a readable size and the chapters promote quick reading while keeping you enticed, you will not put this book down and I mean that.

You'll find yourself really falling for the protagonist, Tom Ward. His introduction to the Spook profession is something you will sympathise with, and you will find yourself willing him on to success. And just wait till Alice is introduced, she adds a brilliant lovers twist to the whole story and her character resonates through the entire series. The story itself is a thrilling tale of struggle, hard questions and harder answers, it really gets to grip with important issues of wrongdoing and the punishment for it, especially when it comes to the key antagonist, Madame Malkin.

Don't be put off by the label of 'teen fiction' that many could level upon this book. Its underlying adult undertones allows you to enjoy the plot while not feeling like you're reading a kiddies book. Just do yourself a favour and buy it. You won't be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Review: Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he can be trained as a spook, to protect the County from evil. Starting off as an apprentice, he learns the ways of a Spook, trapping creatures, learning Latin, and spotting danger signs. Such as women or girls with pointy shoes. Enter Alice, a girl whose loyalties you can never be sure where they lie. Also, there is a witch, Madame Malkin, who has been bound in a pit, but threatens to come out.
I read this one ages ago! But never got into the series, not because I disliked it, but because I kind of forgot abonut this. Then I get an email telling me that there's going to be a film based on it starring Ben Barnes (who was totally adorable as Dorian) and that it would be nice if people could review the series. So I thought, yeah why not. Then I got a package with all 11 books in the series and all I could think was thank you thank you thank you and so yeah I took it on and started reading from the beginning again.
It's hard to believe Thomas is only twelve at times-he's clever at times, and really brave, though he does make errors here and there. Alice is a complete mystery throughout. I loved the Spook, who is wise due to his experience. Also, Mam, who seems to have secrets to come out some day.
Pacing was good. there's soon a dose of suspense which also helps us learn more about Thomas. Writing built suspense and atomsphere well. Madame Malkin is a good adversary, with connections to Alice and being suitably threatening.
Overall: Strength 4 tea to a creepy start to a series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2012
The Spooks series comprising of nine volumes has to be one of the most gripping young adult/ children's books that I have had the pleasure of reading, being truly fantastic in their design and execution by a genius of a writer who certainly has spent a lot of time on his work and done the research into the specific genre. This series begins with book one; the apprentice which `hits the nail right on the head' in terms of reaching out to its target audience, incorporating everything that this younger reader wants to explore in such a way as to enthrall, delight and mesmerize. It is a character-driven tale that takes you on the most thrilling and somewhat scary journey, which will leave you breathless and with chills sent down your spine. I absolutely love how the author structures his storyline around the main character of Thomas Ward (aka; apprentice) so that we come to see his world and imaginative creation through his eyes, making it utterly realistic and believable. Throughout the Wardstone Chronicles you begin to personally connect with the main character that you are by then able to relate to and empathize with, as the writing just gets better and better with the story becoming more exciting and thrilling as the fast-paced action intensifies. It is Joseph Deleaney's memorable characters that draw you into this story and which pull you along so as to be unable to put the book down, without leaving the memories fresh and vivid etched within your mind. It is the distinctive settings and environment that create the most atmospheric and realistic background to an intense plot, with one complimenting the other so as to bring It all to life. I love the symbols, the character profiles and maps at the beginning of the book which again helps to bring the author's creation and world to life and turns the black & white pages to full luminous color, so that you are able to visualize the surroundings with complete clarity. I also love the beautiful illustrations within each book, with everything so well thought out from not just the incredible writing but also the visual and marketing side of the books as a product; with an additional accompanying book to add to your collection and a most well thought out and detailed website. The series as a whole is totally original and something completely unique that many readers will find themselves getting lost within as I myself did, hence once you have read book one you will then want to read and collect them all! Completely brilliant and utterly unique, a spectacular story that deserves to take pride of place on anyone's bookshelf.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
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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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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