Back in december, I said I was planning to read a horror story aimed for a middle grade audience. The book is The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney. Part of the reason it was high priority on my list of things to read is that I wanted to see if he actually pulled it off, that is, if the story was both scary and appropriate for its intended audience.
As I read this book, I was very impressed. I just finished the book a few minutes ago and I think he pulled it off very well. Here’s some of the reasons why:
1) It really was scary without being overly disturbing or gory. In order to be scary in a ghost-story sense, it would be hard to go without some level of disturbing and/or gory. But (my friends can testify) I’m pretty sensitive about disturbing events or scenes in stories and movies. I walked out on at least three popular movies because they bothered me in ways they apparently don’t bother other people. Revenge of the Witch was not like that at all. There was definitely some scary scenes and descriptions, but nothing that came near making me want to put the book down and gag. I wasn’t sure about this when I was hearing about the book before reading it, but now that I’ve read it, I would recommend it to its 9-12 target audience. (note: some of the reviewers on Amazon don’t agree with me here, so I can’t say there’s nothing that anyone would find objectionable. Obviously, different people have different standards.)
2) The ‘good guys’ realy are good. Another thing that bothers me in some other recent movies and books, especially in ‘dark’ stories, is that the good guys aren’t really good. I like to have a heroic main character. I’m not saying they shouldn’t make mistakes. If he didn’t make any mistakes, he wouldn’t be much of a main character. Tom, the main character of this story makes several mistakes, but he was still clearly a good guy. He didn’t just look out for himself or justify means with ends.
3) Alice is a great character. I said I like having a main character who is really good, but it also tends to be good to have another major character who is kind of on the line between good and evil. Alice’s aunt and great-grandmother were the (very evil) witches who were the main villains of the story. Alice herself was sometimes their victim and sometimes their accomplice. Other characters pointed out that she was likely to grow up to be like them, but she also helped the main character against the witches.
A comparable character is Professor Snape. He also kept both the reader and the main characters guessing about whether he would turn out to be more good than bad or vice versa. A big difference here is that Snape knew what side he was on, but Alice hasn’t made her final decision yet, and may never make a final decision. That makes her an even more intriging character in my opinion. As readers, we cheer for Alice to make the right decision.
Overall, I think Joseph Delaney did a great job of writing a horror story for kids -something I think would be difficult to do well. To be honest, the ending didn’t impress me as much as the rest. It was still good, and I can’t put my finger on anything that was actually wrong with it (it still fit the good things I talked about above). I guess it just wasn’t as exciting and climactic as I had hoped. It’s still very impressive, especially considering this is Delaney’s first novel.