Readers will not be disappointed by this chilling continuation of “The Last Apprentice” series. More tightly written then the second, this third book returns to the thrill and action of the series’ opening. As winter approaches, Tom, Alice, and the Spook leave the comfort of Chipenden and head north to Anglezarke, where the battle with the Dark is more intense. It is in the cold of Angelzarke that they meet Meg Skelton, the lamia witch loved by the Spook, as well as the mysterious Morgan, a former apprentice of the Spook. Both cause Tom to wonder about his master’s past indiscretions and his current ability to think clearly and objectively. In spite of the maturity and confidence he has gained in his months as an apprentice, Tom is confused by the deception and mystery surrounding the Spook’s former life and blinded by the tragedy that strikes his own life. Delaney succeeds in creating nail-biting suspense, as Tom tries to figure out who to trust and where his loyalties belong. Fans of this series will not want to miss this latest adventure. Reviewer: Heather Christensen
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8- "I've seen some scary things, but living in a house with witch graves, bound boggarts, and live witches in the cellar didn't make me rest easy." With a move across the county to the damp, dark winter house in Anglezarke, 13-year-old Tom Ward returns for his third adventure, completing his first year as the Spook's apprentice. In this installment, Mr. Gregory (the Spook) and Tom, with the help of Alice, an untrustworthy young witch, try to gain power by raising the ancient god of winter, Golgoth. Along the way, they face a stone-chucker boggart, two lamia witches, and a failed former apprentice dabbling in necromancy. Readers new to the series will get filled in on some of the past adventures, making this volume stand alone, but the growth of the characters of the Spook and Tom's mam will be more appreciated by fans. The straightforward, simple language, reflecting the way that the Spook is teaching Tom to deal with fear and the Dark, along with wide margins and illustrations at the head of each chapter, makes this an excellent choice for reluctant readers. It's head and shoulders above formulaic horror series, and fans of Darren Shan's "Cirque du Freak" (Little, Brown) or kids looking for "scary stories" will not be disappointed.-Kelly Vikstrom, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The third and weakest episode in Delaney's Last Apprentice series takes narrator Tom Ward, his secretive master Old Gregory and canny young witch Alice to winter quarters on bleak Anglezarke Moor where, thanks to massive contrivances, they survive encounters with three blood-sucking witches, a boggart or two and a necromancer out to raise one of the old gods. Along with offering supernatural threats that are both fewer and less dangerous than in previous volumes, Delaney injects his plot with artificial peril by repeatedly having his protagonists inexplicably lie or refuse to impart important information to one another. He then sets up the climax with a cruel deception that is not only ludicrously complicated, but out of character for the gruff but fundamentally decent Gregory, and closes with Tom's newly widowed mother showing him chests of magic secrets that he's forbidden to open for several months. Arrasmith's dark chapter-head illustrations and appended "notebook" pages add atmosphere but not vitality to this limp, overlong outing. (Fantasy. 11-13)
Read an Excerpt
The Last Apprentice: Night of the Soul Stealer
By Joseph Delaney
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Joseph Delaney
All right reserved.
An Unexpected Visitor
It was a cold, dark November night, and Alice and I were sitting by the kitchen fire with my master, the Spook. The weather had been getting steadily colder, and I knew that any day now the Spook would decide it was time to set off for his "winter house" on the bleak moor of Anglezarke.
I was in no rush to go. I'd only been the Spook's apprentice since the spring and had never seen the Anglezarke house, but my curiosity certainly wasn't getting the better of me. I was warm and comfortable here in Chipenden, and that's where I'd rather have spent the winter.
I glanced up from the book of Latin verbs I was trying to learn, and Alice caught my eye. She was sitting on a low stool close to the hearth, her face bathed in the warm glow of the fire. She smiled and I smiled back. Alice was the other reason I didn't want to leave Chipenden. She was the closest I'd ever had to a friend, and she'd saved my life on a number of occasions over the last few months. I'd really enjoyed having her living here with us. She made the loneliness of a spook's life more bearable. But my master had told me in confidence that she would be leaving us soon. He'd never really trusted herbecause she came from a family of witches. He also thought she would start to distract me from my lessons, so when the Spook and I went to Anglezarke, she wouldn't be coming with us. Poor Alice didn't know this, and I hadn't the heart to tell her, so for now I was just enjoying another of our last precious evenings together in Chipenden.
But as it turned out, that was to be our last one of the year: as Alice and I sat reading by the glow of the fire and the Spook nodded off in his chair, the tolling of the summoning bell shattered our peace. At that unwelcome sound, my heart sank right down into my boots. It meant only one thing: spooks' business.
You see, nobody ever came up to the Spook's house. For one thing, they'd have been ripped to pieces by the pet boggart that guarded the perimeter of the gardens. So, despite the failing light and the cold wind, it was my job to go down to the bell in the circle of willow trees to see who needed help.
I was feeling warm and comfortable after my early supper, and the Spook must have sensed my reluctance to leave. He shook his head as if disappointed in me, his green eyes glittering fiercely.
"Get yourself down there, lad," he growled. "It's a bad night and whoever it is won't want to be kept waiting!"
As I stood up and reached for my cloak, Alice gave me a small, sympathetic smile. She felt sorry for me, but I could also see that she was happy to sit there warming her hands while I had to go out into the bitter wind.
I closed the back door firmly behind me and, carrying a lantern in my left hand, strode through the western garden and down the hill, the wind trying its very best to tear the cloak from my back. At last I came to the withy trees, where two lanes crossed. It was dark, and my lantern cast disturbing shadows, the trunks and branches twisting into limbs, claws and goblin faces. Above my head the bare branches were dancing and shaking, the wind whining and wailing like a banshee, a female spirit that warned of a death to come.
But these things didn't worry me much. I'd been to this spot before in the dark, and on my travels with the Spook I'd faced such things that would make your hair stand on end. So I wasn't going to be bothered by a few shadows; I expected to be met by someone far more nervous than I was. Probably some farmer's lad sent by his ghost-plagued dad and desperate for help; a lad who'd be scared just to come within half a mile of the Spook's house.
But it wasn't a lad waiting in the withy trees, and I halted in amazement. There, beneath the bell rope, stood a tall figure dressed in a dark cloak and hood, a staff in his left hand. It was another spook!
The man didn't move so I walked toward him, halting just a couple of paces away. He was broad-shouldered and slightly taller than my master, but of his face I could see little as the hood kept his features in shadow. He spoke before I could introduce myself.
"No doubt he's warming himself by the fire while you're out in the cold," the stranger said, the sarcasm heavy in his voice. "Nothing changes!"
"Are you Mr. Arkwright?" I asked. "I'm Tom Ward, Mr. Gregory's apprentice. . . ." It was a reasonable enough guess. My master, John Gregory, was the only spook I'd ever met but I knew there were others, the nearest being Bill Arkwright, who plied his trade beyond Caster, covering the northern border regions of the County. So it was very likely that this man was him—although I couldn't guess why he'd come calling.
The stranger pulled the hood back from his face to reveal a black beard dappled with flecks of gray and an unruly thatch of black hair silvered at the temples. He smiled with his mouth, but his eyes were cold and hard.
"Who I am is none of your business, boy. But your master knows me well enough!"
With those words he reached inside his cloak, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to me. I turned it over, examining it quickly. It had been sealed with wax and was addressed To John Gregory.
"Well, get on your way, boy. Give him the letter and warn him that we'll be meeting again soon. I'll be waiting for him up on Anglezarke!"
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