open the pages, read the words, savor the magic
The binge reading of Joseph Delaney’s Wardstone Chronicles continues… I am trying very hard not to finish all of these books in 10 days so I made myself promise to only pick up the next book after I finish reviewing it. This way I get to savor the stories and don’t run out of books before summer is even here. The good news is that these books are, as I’ve said before, quite freaky, so I can’t read them before bed anyway.
That said, the third in Delaney’s excellent horror/fantasy series – The Spook’s Secret – is the least terrifying so far. (That’s the keyword here: so far.) There are still all kinds of creepy things but nothing that terrified me like Mother Malkin and the Bane did (although, please bear in mind that I still don’t dare read this book after midnight!) Simultaneously there are, however, a major tragedy that occurred and an interesting villain that is even more of a prick than the Quisitor ever was. But perhaps we better start from the beginning.
Winter was coming, so the Spook John Gregory and his apprentice Tom Ward must go to Anglezarke Moor, where the Spook’s winter house was located. Before they did, however, they received a nameless visitor that Tom received outside their ‘summer home’ and who was rude to him since the beginning. The visitor’s presence piqued Tom’s curiosity, especially after Gregory read a letter from the visitor that he immediately threw into the fire. It took Tom complimenting their boggart housekeeper to find out what was in that letter. With the stranger’s promise to meet them at Angelzarke, Tom was definitely put on the guard.
Arriving at their new abode for the cold months, Tom was immediately put to work doing house chores. It would’ve seemed like he was back at home at the farm but even the home Tom had known all his life was changing drastically, with his father on the brink of death (and poor Thomas Ward, being a seventh son of a seventh son, managed to receive a gift whereby he could smell ‘death’ coming to someone). So it seemed that even he could no longer take refuge in memories of his past as the Spook made him clean pots and pans. Even more intimidating was his introduction to Meg Skelton, a domestic lamia witch with strong ties to the Spook’s past.
In the second book, The Spook’s Curse, Tom had already read about Meg in a journal kept by his master in the library. He’d discovered that Meg was one of his master’s beloved ladies (she wasn’t the only one; the young John Gregory was apparently some kind of a Casanova and Tom was properly astonished and impressed by this). So he was prepared to meet Meg… but he probably wasn’t ready to meet Meg’s sister Marcia – a lamia witch, but a feral one who lived in a pit in the cellar. You see, this is why you can never get too comfortable with Wardstone Chronicles. Just as soon as you think that you’ve come far away from their house where Bony Lizzie and that boggart were kept in a pit, you arrive in another house where not only are there witches in a pit, but witches in graves. Right under their feet in the cellar. Then a boggart passed through the ley line beneath their house, shaking the entire building and later causing havoc in a nearby farm, killing someone.
Meg’s story in The Spook’s Secret was rather dominant; it’s not a subplot, but a second one entirely. It exists parallel to the main story with the stranger, whose identity was cause for much confusion for Tom in the middle of the story. I won’t go into who he exactly is (if I did, it would possibly be a major spoiler) but his name was Morgan Hurst and he was a necromancer. In this universe, necromancer was a kind of dark magician who used the spirits of the dead that lingered on earth to perform deeds. Morgan’s ultimate goal was to achieve power by raising an ancient god called Golgoth, the Lord of Winter, that had been trapped under stone for ages.
Speaking about Morgan, I have to say I’ve never read anyone more despicable in this series than him so far. Mother Malkin and the Bane were terrifying but they were ‘creatures’, instead of humans. Their evil seemed to belong to something otherworldly, not because of their human nature. The Quisitor was an entirely human antagonist. He wasn’t a creature; he was human. And he was evil. Either he was weak-minded and then influenced by the Bane or simply power-hungry, he didn’t have another shape that he could shift into. But the Quisitor never came to the forefront of Tom’s story, so we never got to see who he really was. On paper, the Quisitor was evil, but his evil didn’t touch Tom ‘directly’. He was a danger to the Spook and to Alice, which influenced Tom’s state, but Tom was relatively unharmed by him. That’s why Morgan Hurst is sickening.
As I said, he was greedy and also power hungry. Morgan was the Spook’s apprentice before he was cut off the program because he never liked to do things properly. Bitter, perhaps, that Gregory dismissed him, he turned to necromancy. But the fact that he wanted to raise Golgoth, a being that could destroy the lives of everyone in the County, was not even as loathsome as what he did to Tom. Somewhere in the middle of the story, he made Tom assist him by manipulation. (More on this later.) But before that, he sent Tom a letter and basically claimed, “You are now MY apprentice, Tom. You will do what I say!” The presumptuousness of this prick was absolutely galling to read! He wasn’t even friends with Tom Ward and now he simply appointed himself as Tom’s teacher? If that’d happened to me, I’d have raised my middle finger and asked, “Who the hell are you?!”
He also exhibited delusional behavior, which later when this was pointed out to him he merely responded to by calmly accepting the accusation. It was as if he had nothing else to lose… in other stories, maybe I’d be able to muster some sympathy for this pathetic loser, but at that point he’d already caused Tom so much grief that I just wanted him dead for good. Since there are still 10 more books in this series, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Tom finally prevailed and survived Morgan’s plot. And let me tell you – when his defeat happened, I actually cheered out loud. I’m not even sorry.
The Spook’s Secret was particularly sad not only because of what Morgan did to Tom and how he manipulated him, but because essentially this was a book of goodbyes.
Tom Ward’s father passed away, causing his wife and Tom’s Mam to grieve and finally leaving for her home. We already knew the possibility of this happening but to see it finally happening, it was tough to read. That was why, the way Morgan used Tom’s father’s newly departed spirit to manipulate him seemed utterly vile and unforgivable. They weren’t the only ones who left: Meg and Marcia also left and Master Gregory, too, had to say goodbye to his past. Both Master and apprentice were now, possibly, quite alone in this world with only each other for company.
Here’s a line from The Spook’s Secret that nearly made me blubber when I read it (from the last chapter):
So, with a heavy heart, I walked on to Chipenden with Alice, my mother’s last kiss upon my cheek. I was still only thirteen but I knew my childhood was already over.
It’s sad and tragic but also at the same time it makes The Spook’s Secret my favorite in the series. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen human emotions other than fear and bravery in the Chronicles. As much as I enjoy the adventure and the creatures and the master-apprentice interaction, the first two books didn’t carry too much emotional depth. This third one, though, does and it would be interesting how Tom emotionally will deal with the loss of his parents in later books.
I may have started reading the Wardstone Chronicles because I wanted to compared the movie to the books, but we’ve gone past that point now and I’m in it for the stories themselves. I’m invested in this and I’m going to collect all thirteen books. But, again, one book at a time. I’m in it for the long run.