Attack of the Fiend: Getting a bit repetitive

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Attack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney children's horror book reviewsAttack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney

Attack of the Fiend is the fourth novel in Joseph Delaney’s THE LAST APPRENTICE / THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES series for children. Interested readers will want to read the previous books before reading this one (and probably before even reading this review, since it may contain spoilers for previous books).

As I’ve noted in my previous reviews, this series is gruesome and scary and thus will be absolutely thrilling for some young readers. Children who are easily frightened should probably stay away unless they’re undergoing some sort of exposure therapy.

In this fourth installment, Tom Ward, the Spook’s Apprentice, is about to turn 14 years old. He’s hasn’t had much of a breather since the last horrifying adventure when the Spook gets word that the three most powerful witch clans are beginning to unite in the district of Pendle. The fact that the usually antagonistic witch clans are putting aside their differences means that they must have some mutually beneficial evil plan that requires a huge amount of power. The Spook is not only concerned about what the witches are planning, but he is also nervous about the people in the surrounding area of Pendle. The united witches will be a threat to everyone’s safety.

Tom and the Spook will have to travel to Pendle to take care of this problem. In preparation, Tom must learn all about different types of witches, the holidays and sabbaths they observe (e.g. Lammas, Candlemas, Walpurgis Night), and the techniques they use such as glamour, scrying and binding. As usual, the Spook is worried about Tom’s best friend Alice since she comes from a witch family and may not be able to resist being seduced by the promise of her inherited powers.

As with the previous books, the plot of Attack of the Fiend moves swiftly and is quite scary. Tom discovers that the witches do indeed have an evil plan and part of it involves him and the trunk his mother left him in a room that was supposed to be completely warded against evil. As has happened before, Tom’s family on the farm is dragged into the mess. And, as usual, nobody is quite sure which side Alice will be loyal to.

Children who loved the previous LAST APPRENTICE books will probably love Attack of the Fiend, too. It’s got the same tone, with lots of blood, bones, grime, pain, groans, graveyards, moss-covered ruins, fetid smells, deep pits, bleak landscapes, murders, poisonings, and other really scary and/or gross stuff. Disappointingly, it’s also got some of the same plot — kidnappings, betrayals, escapes, rescues, and ominous prophecies. Also disappointingly, Tom does some really dumb things in this book, such as walking right into obvious traps as we scream “Noooooooooo!” from the sidelines. This helps to move the plot along and to keep the anxiety up, perhaps, but doesn’t give me much hope that Tom will make it to his 15th birthday without many more rescues from Alice and the Spook.

Tom has some moral dilemmas in Attack of the Fiend. For example, he has to choose between duty and desire, and has to decide whether it’s sometimes okay to tell a lie or to kill someone. These hard decisions, and his worry that perhaps he is evil, make him long for the boring life he had at home before he went off with the Spook.

There is some welcome progression of the overarching plot in Attack of the Fiend. We learn a bit more about Tom’s mother, for example, and it appears that a major war is approaching. I’m hoping that the story will become a little less repetitive starting with the next book, Wrath of the Bloodeye.

HarperAudio’s version, narrated by Christopher Evan Welch, is superb. It’s 9 hours long.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews of these, and I’m thinking of a couple of young readers who would really enjoy them.

    And thanks for the link to exposure therapy! I didn’t know that was the official name.

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