open the pages, read the words, savor the magic
Joseph Delaney is giving me grey hairs. No matter how many times I tell myself, “It’ll be better for Tom Ward in the next book”, it never comes true. If any, Delaney plunges his hero – and the character that’s now become one of my favorite protagonists of all time – into deeper trouble. Because as if sacrificing his soul to the Devil himself is not enough, Tom Ward is now a refugee from war.
The seventh book of the Wardstone Chronicles is opened with the burning down of the Spook John Gregory’s house in Chipenden.War had come to the County with the arrival of enemy soldiers and they burned the house down. He didn’t just his home; Gregory had lost his legacy. The books he’d collected in his library for the future generation were lost. The boggart he’d ‘contracted’ as a cook was gone as its pact with the Spook dissolved due to the house no longer having a roof. But none of that compared to the greatest loss of all: Bony Lizzie had escaped from her pit in the garden and was at large in the world.
The trio traveling to an island called Mona – an unfriendly island that was almost overrun with refugees from the County that they’d started sending them back on ships – was just about the worst thing you could imagine. Nobody welcomed Team Spooks in the island, never mind that they actually needed to be rid of horrors like a creature called buggane that fed on the life force of humans after screwing their brain with some serious mindf*ckery. Tom and Alice even managed to get themselves captured by local guards – the yeomen – suspected of witchcraft and then subjected to one of the worst forms of witch testing I’ve ever read in any book. And that was even before the Spook’s nightmares started…
Soon enough his nightmare came to fruition: Bony Lizzie returned to their lives. She was in Mona and very quickly established herself to become the ruler of this island. As she sought to control the buggane and used it for her own nefarious plans, Tom, Alice and John Gregory had to rally with the locals before it was too late. Except for some locals, it might be too late already.
Coming off The Spook’s Sacrifice, The Spook’s Nightmare might have easily become an unremarkable “just another story of Tom Ward’s trial and tribulations”. It also didn’t yield any new revelations about any persons related to Tom; there certainly was no Mam confessing to her real identity! There wasn’t even an alliance of witches congregating to make me feel uneasy. Certainly, it did feel like more of a thrilling adventure than a deep story of life, love or humanity. In short, despite the characters’ lives being at constant mortal peril, this was one of the easier books to read in the series.
However, the seventh book in the series successfully did without much interference from the Fiend this time around – and thank God for that! It’s about time we got some variation in who gets to play the Big Baddie here.
Bony Lizzie took center stage in this tale of supernatural horror. Delaney had always painted a very cruel picture of witches in his series but Bony Lizzie was always one of the more multi-dimensional witches. Whereas Mother Malkin was just mean and irredeemable, Lizzie showed another side to her when she first appeared. In the end, her cruelty persisted and she was still one of the evilest witches Tom had ever faced, but at least we got to see a different side of her. She was ambitious, had thirst for power and ambition, and extremely manipulative, and the acts of terror she committed gave padding to this villainess character.
The buggane – and the first dark shaman that controlled it – as well as another one of the Fiend’s children that made an appearance here (named Horn) were also exciting additions to the story. They make boggarts and skelts almost entirely benign now. And, as I love it when Delaney injects myths from this universe of his into the story (like Golgoth and the Ordeen), the chapter called “The Grim Cache” (Chapter 19) in which Tom & Co. found a place at the center of a labyrinth filled with life forces of the humans the buggane fed upon. There was an Indiana Jones moment when Gregory and Tom discovered this cache and it was fun to read, even though it exacerbated the danger they were facing.
Not everything ends well – especially not for Bony Lizzie! – but there was also an extremely tragic moment where Tom and Alice lost the new friends they had made. A ‘bird witch’ named Adriana and her beau, Simon, became a pair of supporting characters that I thought could be more involved in the way Bill Arkwright, Grimalkin or even James Ward had been. Delaney dashed my hopes in the chapter “One for Sorrow” and it was, in a way, the first time I felt deep sorrow. They looked like they could have been great characters in the long run but it was not meant to be. It’s not that the series suffers from a lack of great female characters – Alice alone could fulfill the entire quota – but I just wished there could have been more of Adriana.
I’m constantly aware of the foreshadowings of what may come in the story but this time around I didn’t focus too much on trying to figure out what sort of craziness Delaney threw at us. But I also can’t say that I was surprised that the ending hinted at Point of No Return to Chipenden. As the war continued to rage in the County, Tom and his companions make their way “westwards, to Ireland”. It nearly broke my heart when I read how Tom said “I long to go back to the County” because, really, a boy of fifteen (or is it fourteen?) should not be away from home because of war. The echoes of real world’s World Wars were quite strong in that one sentence… and once again I wonder why heroes in stories need to go through so much suffering in order to become strong.
Ah well… I suppose that’s the way fiction goes…
I’m going through these books like peanuts! Now that I’ve finished the seventh book, I’m nearing the end of story. Sure, there are 6 more books to go, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be finished before I can even say “spook!” Even if they are horrific, Joseph Delaney’s stories most certainly have an addictive quality. I just can’t get enough of them.