open the pages, read the words, savor the magic
This review consists of the second story in The Wardstone Chronicles by Joseph Delaney, with its American title, which is The Last Apprentice: Curse of the Bane (Book 2). The review for the first story, Revenge of the Witch (Book 1), that is also included in this movie tie-in edition, is reviewed in a separate entry here.
As I have written in that entry, the American publisher (HarperCollins) released the movie tie-in edition with those two stories mashed in one book. This is probably because the movie Seventh Son (released in January this year in Indonesia) sourced several of the Last Apprentice books in its script. It may be convenient for the movie tie-in to include two books in the same volume, but it’s also kind of confusing to review them at the same time. So I split the review in two parts to honor each story.
Despite filling the review of the first book with plenty of movie references, I will keep them light in this book. There will still be possible spoilers for the movie but there won’t be as many comparisons to the movie as the other review.
When we left Thomas Ward, a 13-year-old Spook’s apprentice, in the previous book, he seems to have finally overcome his initial worries about his creepy job in a tough trade. A Spook, after all, is a supervisor and handler of supernatural happenings in the County – a place based on author Joseph Delaney’s home in real life, Lancashire in England – and they deal with boggarts, witches, ghosts, ghasts and all manner of phenomenons that are magical and, well, spooky in origin. It’s a lonely, tough profession to go through for an adult man like Master Spook, John Gregory, let alone for a teenager like Tom. But with a witch for a mother, a seventh son of a seventh son like Tom is perfectly suited for the job.
Indeed the young boy has managed to do his job properly in the second book, binding a boggart on his own while his master was down with illness. In that first chapter alone we already got a glimpse not only into the novice’s newfound confidence, but also the master’s past. After all, the victim of this latest boggart called the Horshaw Ripper is none other than Gregory’s priest brother. The boggart was confined, but the brother is dead anyway, thus paving the way for another horror-filled adventure for Tom and Master Gregory in Priestown.
It is the place for Gregory’s priest of a brother’s funeral, the home of another brother named Andrew who is the only remaining Gregory brother in the County, and the location of a cathedral in whose catacombs lie a creature so terrifying that I almost put the book down without reading further. As usual, Delaney’s description of Tom’s fear of this creature – called the Bane – is so strong that readers may get the ultimate chills. When you think about how much of an exorcism the process of capturing the boggart is in the first chapter, and the setting of a huge part of the story in a church, you can imagine those Hollywood movies where demons possess humans and make them do horrible things. Add to that an Inquisition from a villainous character called the Quisitor, then you have the complete religion-based horror movie experience in one book. That is definitely not my idea of a good time so you’ll forgive me if I’m as anxious with this book as I was with the previous one.
The reason why the Bane strikes fear into Tom – and me – so much is because it is scary creature. When Tom started to describe the book as a gargoyle-like being, it already sounded ugly. But the Bane also has mind-reading powers and is able to possess humans and make them do its bidding. And why not? It is, after all, said to be a former god of the Little People (sorry, but when I read the description of the Little People, I thought of Tolkien’s Hobbits!) This was a god that turned on its people and annihilated its king and his line. It is so powerful that not even Gregory managed to vanquish this creature in the past; the Bane still lived to spread its terror in Priestown that is also still dealing with the Quisitor’s Inquisition and witch burnings and general oppression of the County’s denizens.
Other than having to worry about the Bane and the Quisitor, an old friend of Tom’s also returned to the picture. Alice, the young witch from the first book, got herself captured by the Quisitor. Predictably, Tom begins to waver. He shifted from trusting Alice and not trusting her, helping her and abandoning her, and back again to zero and starting the process all over. It’s an interesting dynamic because it’s not a straightforward relationship. If Alice were to be the love of Tom’s life later, then we can be rest assured that this is no fairy tale romance. In fact, I do hope Alice can stay away from Tom for good… especially after she was consumed by revenge and allied herself with the Bane to wreak havoc on the people who infringe upon her rights. (On the one hand: you go, girl! On the other: not this again.)
Although this story contains an insight into Master Gregory’s past – one part which sets up the story and setting of the third book, but I won’t say what it is – and there’s a major development in the master-apprentice relationship, this book feels pretty much like a solo Thomas Ward adventure. For the most part, Gregory was chained as the Quisitor’s prisoner, leaving Tom to deal with the Bane on his own at first. When in the end Gregory took over the situation, Tom was still the one that ended up as the hero of the story. The conclusion was so glorious that I cheered loudly when I got to the climax of the story, making for a very rewarding experience to read this book.
Not so rewarding is the movie adapted from the Wardstone Chronicles in general. It’s a pity that Seventh Son didn’t include many obvious elements from Curse of the Bane (or the Spook’s Curse, if you prefer the British title of the book) which could be spectacular. Perhaps one or two back stories ‘inspired’ a background detail for the movie, but none of the more interesting parts even got a mention. That cathedral and the catacombs, for example, would be interesting to see. Even more so, I would have liked to see the Quisitor in a live action feature. He seemed a villain worth fighting, although I don’t think I’d enjoy seeing the Bane. Director Sergei Bodrov and his production design team managed to come up with truly amazingly designed creatures for the movie, which was one of the very few highlights of the mediocre film, so I’m pretty sure they’d create a spectacular Bane. Just the mere idea, though, is rather terrifying to think about.
It’s time to stop lamenting the movie, however, because now that I’ve discovered the book series, I am happy to dwell in this fantastical – if not altogether pleasant – world constructed by Delaney on paper. Sometimes the best books you read are discovered through a badly made film and that’s truly a blessing in disguise.