Although described as intended for children 10 and up, this extremely well-written debut novel would have scared the pants off me at that age. It’s the story of Thomas Ward, a 12-year-old farm boy and the seventh son of a seventh son, who is destined to become a Spook, someone with special skills to keep the dark things away from the innocent village folk. Thomas is sent off by his mom to apprentice under Old Gregory, who has gone through 27 previous apprentices and is nearing the end of his run, but has much to teach Thomas before he goes.
Spooks live apart from normal people and are treated with a combination of fear and disgust at the things they are forced to do. It’s a lonely job but someone has to do it. Things that go bump in the night aren’t superstitions—it’s all real! Witches, boggarts, ghosts and more, some benign but mostly not, creep around us and do dastardly things. In this debut novel, a dead witch comes back to life and turns to deadly slime which can crawl into someone’s ear or nostril and possess them! Yikes! And she’s out for Thomas.
Not normally my cup of tea, this tale of the witch’s revenge provided a quick evening’s read with the proper chills and thrills. The Last Apprentice is written with just the right sparseness of dialogue, just the right palette of words and atmospherics, and just the right dose of scariness. But I would think twice before giving it to a suggestible 10-year-old.