Attack of the Fiend is the fourth novel in Joseph Delaney’s THE LAST APPRENTICE / THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES series for children. Interested readers will want to read the previous books before reading this one (and probably before even reading this review, since it may contain spoilers for previous books).
As I’ve noted in my previous reviews, this series is gruesome and scary and thus will be absolutely thrilling for some young readers. Children who are easily frightened should probably stay away unless they’re undergoing some sort of exposure therapy.
In this fourth installment, Tom Ward, the Spook’s Apprentice, is about to turn 14 years old. He’s hasn’t had much of a breather since the last horrifying adventure when the Spook gets word that the three most powerful witch clans are beginning to unite in the district of Pendle. The fact that the usually antagonistic witch clans are putting aside their differences means that they must have some mutually beneficial evil plan that requires a huge amount of power. The Spook is not only concerned about what the witches are planning, but he is also nervous about the people in the surrounding area of Pendle. The united witches will be a threat to everyone’s safety.
Tom and the Spook will have to travel to Pendle to take care of this problem. In preparation, Tom must learn all about different types of witches, the holidays and sabbaths they observe (e.g. Lammas, Candlemas, Walpurgis Night), and the techniques they use such as glamour, scrying and binding. As usual, the Spook is worried about Tom’s best friend Alice since she comes from a witch family and may not be able to resist being seduced by the promise of her inherited powers.
As with the previous books, the plot of Attack of the Fiend moves swiftly and is quite scary. Tom discovers that the witches do indeed have an evil plan and part of it involves him and the trunk his mother left him in a room that was supposed to be completely warded against evil. As has happened before, Tom’s family on the farm is dragged into the mess. And, as usual, nobody is quite sure which side Alice will be loyal to.
Children who loved the previous LAST APPRENTICE books will probably love Attack of the Fiend, too. It’s got the same tone, with lots of blood, bones, grime, pain, groans, graveyards, moss-covered ruins, fetid smells, deep pits, bleak landscapes, murders, poisonings, and other really scary and/or gross stuff. Disappointingly, it’s also got some of the same plot — kidnappings, betrayals, escapes, rescues, and ominous prophecies. Also disappointingly, Tom does some really dumb things in this book, such as walking right into obvious traps as we scream “Noooooooooo!” from the sidelines. This helps to move the plot along and to keep the anxiety up, perhaps, but doesn’t give me much hope that Tom will make it to his 15th birthday without many more rescues from Alice and the Spook.
Tom has some moral dilemmas in Attack of the Fiend. For example, he has to choose between duty and desire, and has to decide whether it’s sometimes okay to tell a lie or to kill someone. These hard decisions, and his worry that perhaps he is evil, make him long for the boring life he had at home before he went off with the Spook.
There is some welcome progression of the overarching plot in Attack of the Fiend. We learn a bit more about Tom’s mother, for example, and it appears that a major war is approaching. I’m hoping that the story will become a little less repetitive starting with the next book, Wrath of the Bloodeye.
HarperAudio’s version, narrated by Christopher Evan Welch, is superb. It’s 9 hours long.
The Last Apprentice (The Wardstone Chronicles) — (2004-2015) Ages 9-12. In the UK, these are The Wardstone Chronicles (The Spook’s Apprentice, The Spook’s Curse, The Spook’s Secret, The Spook’s Battle, The Spook’s Mistake, The Spook’s Sacrifice). Publisher: A wonderful and terrifying series by a new writer about a young boy training to be an exorcist. Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the local Spook. The job is hard, the Spook is distant and many apprentices have failed before Thomas. Somehow Thomas must learn how to exorcise ghosts, contain witches and bind boggarts. But when he is tricked into freeing Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the County, the horror begins …
Other Last Apprentice Tales:
The Starblade Chronicles — (2014- ) Publisher: The first book in a chilling new trilogy from the author of the internationally bestselling Last Apprentice series! Tom Ward is an apprentice no longer—he is a full-fledged spook battling boggarts, witches, and other creatures of the dark. First in a three-book arc that introduces brand-new readers to Joseph Delaney’s haunting world. Tom Ward is the Spook, the one person who can defend the county from bloodthirsty creatures of the dark. But he’s only seventeen, and his apprenticeship was cut short when his master died in battle. No one trusts Tom’s skill, not till he’s proven himself. And a fifteen-year-old girl named Jenny knows more about the three mysterious deaths in the county than Tom does. She is a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and she wants to be Tom’s first apprentice—even though a female spook is unheard of. Together, Tom and Jenny will uncover the grave danger heading straight toward the county, and they’ll team up with a witch assassin to confront it. A New Darkness begins a three-book arc that will introduce new readers to Joseph Delaney’s deliciously scary imagination and electrify his longtime fans. A New Darkness is perfect for every reader who loves thrills, chills, action, and adventure—no prior knowledge of The Last Apprentice series necessary! The Last Apprentice series, the first internationally bestselling series about Tom Ward, is soon to be a major motion picture, Seventh Son, starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue, Djimon Hounsou, and Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin.