Saturday, October 27, 2012

Not to be read after dark

I've had to eye-read the last two of the adventures of seventh son Tom Ward and his master, John Gregory the dark-fighting Spook, in Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice series (called the Wardstone Chronicles in England).  This has disappointed me, since I've become quite attached to the narrator -- Christopher Evan Welch -- so when I saw that my library had purchased the (almost) most recent Spook book, Rage of the Fallen, on audio, I knew it was destined for my ears.  Sometimes it seems ridiculous to keep reading a series where every book ends up being pretty much like the one before, but I'm kind of caught up in Tom's story and wonder how things are going to work out for him. (On the other hand, a part of me wishes the author would just get on with it and end things!  See Bloody Jack.)

In this installment (Book 8, not counting the short story collections), Tom, his witchy friend Alice, and the Spook have had to leave the County where war destroyed the Spook's home and library. They made their way first to Mona (the Isle of Man) and now they're on the run again, to Ireland.  Some people there are very glad to see a Spook, and they enlist the travelers in an elaborate plan to destroy the Goat Mages who meet annually to call up the spirit of Pan to reign destruction and keep the natives in check. Things go terribly wrong: Alice is taken away by their old arch-enemy, the Fiend, and Tom is captured by the mages who torture and use him to lure Pan to their nasty ceremonies. With the aid of the assassin witch Grimalkin, Tom escapes and between them they destroy the Fiend (or maybe not?).

I thought the gore was ratcheted up considerably in this installment, with dismemberment, murder, animal sacrifice, and torture all described in Tom's quiet, matter-of-fact manner. I continue to enjoy Welch's narration;Tom's natural youthfulness, the gruff businesslike speech of the Spook, Alice's high-pitched bossiness -- these are the voices I heard in my head when I eye-read the two previous books.  Grimalkin takes on a much larger role in this novel, and I quibble a bit with Welch's characterization of her -- she sounded way too girly and weak.  That woman is a killer! When I look back on my notes on the last installment I listened to, I realize that Welch changed voices for this interpretation of Grimalkin. I noted that previously he'd given her "a sharp, raspy delivery." I did not hear that this time round.

I do admire Welch's skill in reading the punchy, declarative sentences that Delaney uses to tell his stories.  There is nothing complex in his writing (they read really quickly), but Welch paces and varies his reading in ways that keeps the narrative interesting.

I haven't really minded reading the print versions of this series because the books are so well-designed.  They are slightly more square than your average novel, and I love the admonition that's always to be found on the back cover: Warning! Not to be read after dark, followed by "especially" and a page number.  Patrick Arrasmith's interior illustrations add terrifically to all the deliciously dare-I-say-spooky atmosphere.

[Although you can see Arrasmith's artwork on the cover of each book, this page from Attack of the Fiend (downloaded from his website) shows how well the interior art is incorporated into the story.  Grimalkin, the assassin, is pictured here.]

Rage of the Fallen (The Last Apprentice, Book 8) by Joseph Delaney
Narrated by Christopher Evan Welch
Recorded Books, 2011.  6:45

No comments: