English Folklore Galore
A mature middle-grade fantasy—sporting a medieval feel and steeped in an eerie English folklore ambiance which, at times, drifts over the line into horror.
The story is told exclusively in the first-person past tense perspective of Tom Ward, the latest (and allegedly last) apprentice to the local “Spook.” Tom’s heritage and precise birth order (7th son of a 7th son) have qualified him as a banisher of things that go bump in the night. But Tom is a kind-natured, naive boy. And he has an awful lot of growing to do if he’s to survive his apprenticeship…
A gothic, paranormal sort of work that should appeal well enough to the entire range of a YA audience—despite the MC’s technical age. The prose is simple yet strong, and the telling is engaging. Delany has constructed a dreary, dangerous world and a sympathetically innocent character with which readers must navigate. Themes of friendship, honesty, courage, resourcefulness, and the extending of grace, all feature prominently.
Content Note:The horror aspects, though relatively brief, may be too intense for a younger MG audience. While not gory or gratuitous in any way, there ARE references to horrific violence committed against women and the brutal murder of small children. I’d advise a 12+ rating.
My biggest qualm regarding the plot centers around Tom’s mother. The woman obviously has some preternatural inclinations—prophesy being among her curiously innate abilities. She knows from the time of Tom’s birth what he will become. Indeed, she indicates to Tom’s master that she bore him specifically to serve that purpose. Yet, she’s apparently done nothing to ready Tom for any of the dangers and horrors she knows he will have to face. One would think a loving mother might have wanted to increase his odds of survival with a little advanced education. But, no. She’s sent a clueless adolescent boy off with no advantages outside of those that may lie hidden in his as-yet-indeterminate bloodline. That aspect became the biggest challenge to suspending my disbelief. (In all honesty, I doubt this is anything a younger audience would notice or be bothered by.)
A prime pick for those in the YA range looking for something darker, that still manages to leave much to the imagination. I’ll be glad to try out book 2 and see where the author seems to be taking this rather prolific series.