The Last Apprentice: Attack of the Fiend (Book 4) by Joseph Delaney

The fourth book in the Last Apprentice series is a little longer than the three preceding novels, but no less enjoyable. Delaney has an excellent ability to balance the horror of his book with the lighter sides (specifically the faith that main character Tom Ward shows in his friend Alice and his master, the Spook).

In book four, our trio head to Pendle to deal with the growing danger of the three witch clans living there. The witches have grown so strong that there is an aura of fear in the area and many people have moved away. The Spook has learned that the three usually warring clans are uniting, which happens only rarely when they intend to unleash something particularly evil and has decided it is time to stop it. Tom has additional problems when he discovers that his brother, sister-in-law, and niece have been kidnapped and he must save them before it is too late. The kidnappers also stole his mother’s trunks, which she left to him and told him to use under extreme circumstances. Can he save his family, stop the witches, and recover his inheritance in time?

I am ever impressed with Delaney’s books. He does not shy away from the gruesome but yet he manages to always keep away from being gratuitously disgusting. Many authors find it difficult to strike that balance. He also continues to make Tom (and by extension the reader) examine their ideas of good and evil. Tom’s mother, though not physically present, is a particular force for this line of thought. Who was she? Tom keeps learning more about her past but it doesn’t resolve his confusion and curiosity. It’s clear that there is still more to learn about her.

This is also the first time where Alice never seemed to stray from the path of good. She wasn’t tempted (or forced) into using dark magic and she was willing to put her life on the line yet again for Tom. Their relationship continues to grow in complexity and closeness, which I like. The Spook doesn’t trust her yet, but maybe he never will, and that’s ok.

There is nothing straightforward about this series and I really have no complaints.

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