Joseph Delaney, The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, 2006, HarperTrophy.
Thomas J. Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son who has the (mis)fortune to be able to see and hear things most people, excluding his Mam, cannot. It is because of his birth and gift that he is apprenticed out to the local Spook who goes about the County ridding it of witches, boggarts, and ghosts among many other evil things. The problem is Tom finds himself getting into worse and worse trouble after he strikes up a friendship with Alice, a girl with pointy-toed shoes, the kind of girl the Spook has warned him to avoid. And there's the problem with Mother Malkin, the witch imprisoned in one of the garden pits who Tom accidentally helps escape.
To say I'm not a horror fan would be the understatement of the year. When it comes to horror films I absolutely cannot watch them. Now, books of the horror genre are another story. Yeah, I can still spook myself if I'm reading the stuff at night (which is why I tend to save my occaisional forays into horror for daylight reading) but generally my mind doesn't linger on what happened the way it does when the blood, gore, and things that go bump in the night are presented on a movie or tv screen. Plus I was a total R.L. Stine Fear Street series junkie as a kid. This book is not like any of R.L. Stine's work. It is a clever mix of horror, adventure, and fantasy that creates a world similar to but set apart from the picture of England you have or know.
Delaney's characters are complex creations who make it difficult to predict where the plot will go despite the supernatural elements. We are not given all the insight and background needed to fully understand them but the reason for this is that the book is only the first in a series, so the author would not want to give us all the information right away. While there is hidden potential for a romance between Alice and Tom, the friendship is a curious one that alternates between a need for friendship, convenience, mutual admiration for the abilities of the other, and suspicion of what each is capable of doing and in Alice's case what she is capable of growing up to be. This is by far the most interesting relationship in the book and it will be fun to see how it plays out in the sequels.
The book itself has the appropriate amount of supernatural terror, gore (the description of Mother Malkin's cakes especially!), suspense, and plenty creatures of the night which will put a definite chill in the readers bones without giving them nightmares, even if I am a wuss who only read this book during the daytime. You'll want to call Mother Malkin, Madam Malkin after the Robes Shop owner in the HP series, but this witch isn't anything like the ones in JKR's popular world. Fantasy fans will enjoy the book but it has wide-reaching appeal that really should be enjoyed by any young adult (male or female) who likes to read.