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Book Review

This dark fantasy novel by Joseph Delaney is the first in the "Last Apprentice" series published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Revenge of the Witch is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son. He's surprised when his mother (Mam) tells him she married his father, a seventh son, just so she could eventually give birth to Thomas. She believes Thomas has a special gift, the ability to sense things others cannot.

By his mother's design, Thomas becomes an apprentice to a Spook known as Old Gregory. Spooks are men who travel the country subduing the witches and spirits who make trouble for the locals. Thomas knows it is a lonely job, as people fear the Spooks and keep their distance. He learns 29 apprentices have worked for Old Gregory before him. Some have failed or run away. Others have been killed in the line of duty.

Old Gregory divides his time between wandering the land and staying at his home. While traveling, he and Thomas eat little but cheese. At home, a spirit known as a boggart makes large meals for them. Old Gregory keeps witches and other dangerous spirits imprisoned in pits in his yard. He teaches Thomas about different types of evil spirits and how they can be bound so they will not disturb the townspeople.

When Thomas goes into town to pick up Old Gregory's food and supplies, he meets a girl named Alice. She protects him from a pack of bullies and asks Thomas to promise her a favor in return. He later learns she is kin to a witch called Mother Malkin, who is trapped in Old Gregory's yard. Alice asks Thomas to give some cakes to Mother Malkin while Old Gregory is out of town, and he does so, against his better judgment.

The cakes give the witch strength, and she escapes from her prison. Thomas wrestles with her, and she dies in a river near Old Gregory's home. A child from the town has gone missing, and Thomas is sure the witch took the child to use for her blood magic. He rescues the child. Old Gregory returns home and tells Thomas that killing the witch was a mistake. Now she will likely return and possess someone else's body in an effort to get back at the apprentice.

Alice and Mother Malkin's evil relatives, Bony Lizzie and Tusk, capture Thomas and leave him to die in a pit with the thumb bones of Old Gregory's former apprentice. Alice helps Thomas escape, and they run back to the Old Gregory's home. Old Gregory isn't sure what Alice's future holds since she comes from a family of witches. He can either lock her up or have Thomas take her to the home of relatives some distance away. Thomas decides to do the latter. Old Gregory tells him to take Alice to Thomas' home first so she can talk with Thomas' mother.

Thomas' oldest brother, Jack, who runs the farm with his father, doesn't take kindly to the boy's arrival with Alice. He and his wife, Ellie, have just had a new baby, and he rightly fears Thomas is bringing evil into the home. Thomas talks with Alice, trying to figure out which of his family members Mother Malkin might try to possess in order to get close to the boy.

The witch ends up possessing a local man slaughtering pigs at their farm. She beats and bloodies Jack, then captures the baby. She tells Thomas that he must come to her or she'll slit the baby's throat. Alice jumps in and breaks the witch's spell, and Thomas throws a mixture of salt and iron into the witch's face. The witch escapes into a herd of angry pigs, and they eat her. This will destroy her for good, since witches can be defeated if their hearts are eaten.

Thomas finishes his journey, taking Alice to her relatives. He prepares to return to his training with Old Gregory.

Christian Beliefs

Thomas tells Ellie that he suspects something evil has followed him home, and he urges her to leave the farm. Ellie refuses. She says her mother taught her that if you pray hard, nothing from the dark can harm you. She says she will stay there and pray.

Other Belief Systems

In a land full of superstitions and evil, the Spook has a dangerous but necessary role in the eyes of the townspeople. Old Gregory teaches Thomas about different types of spirits like ghasts (fragments of spirits that have moved on), ghosts (full spirits trapped on the earth and unable to move on) and boggarts (spirits that are trapped along certain invisible roads). There are several types of boggarts, some of which drink human blood. Old Gregory teaches Thomas how to capture and subdue each kind. He imprisons them in his yard to protect the townspeople. He says boggarts can often be suppressed with a mixture of salt and iron. Thomas later uses this mixture successfully on Mother Malkin.

Old Gregory teaches Thomas about witches and the types of magic they use, such as bone magic or the blood magic Mother Malkin practices. She acquires power from human blood, mostly that of children. She even draws blood from Alice on many occasions. Old Gregory talks about how witches may posses other bodies. He sites the definitive work on the subject, which is called Posession: The Damned, the Dizzy and the Desperate. He lists four types of witches, the malevolent (or evil), the benign (or good), the falsely accused and the unaware (which may be malevolent or benign).

Old Gregory tells Thomas that Spooks don't use magic. Their main tools of the trade are common sense, courage and accuracy in recordkeeping so they can learn from the past. He says the future isn't fixed, so they must make their own wishes come true.

On several occasions, Old Gregory tells Thomas not to trust women because they may be witches and not even realize it. Old Gregory and Mam agree that dark power is growing stronger in their land. Thomas can hear and see the dead. Some sort of special power allows him to battle Mother Malkin. Thomas reads that priests can sometimes use exorcism to release a possessed person. Old Gregory walks past a priest, bitterly stating that priests know everything but see nothing. Old Gregory reveals that this particular priest was his brother. Mam later tells Thomas Old Gregory used to be a priest himself.

Authority Roles

Mam believes she has done the country a favor by giving birth to Thomas and sending him to be a Spook. She often gives advice to Thomas, Alice and others in the household. Thomas' father is an aging farmer who has turned most of the workload over to his oldest son. Old Gregory trains and cares for Thomas with grace and kindness. Witches Mother Malkin and Bony Lizzie exploit Alice by using her blood for their spells.


Old Gregory makes Thomas face his fear of a nearby graveyard called Hangman's Hill. While there, Thomas sees the spirits of many dead soldiers, some hanging from trees and thrashing about. Old Gregory tells Thomas about a spirit in his childhood home. It was the ghost of a man who killed his wife by breaking her head open with a lump of coal. While she lay there dying, the man went to the cellar to dig her grave. He killed himself later that night.

Thomas learns Old Gregory's last apprentice was killed by a boggart who had bitten off the boy's fingers to the knuckle and sucked all the blood out of his body. Old Gregory kills Tusk with a knife. After possessing the pig slaughterer, Mother Malkin badly injures Jack and captures the baby. She threatens to kill the child if Thomas doesn't come to her. Mother Malkin is trapped in Old Gregory's yard until she escapes. Thomas wrestles with her, and she dies in a river near Old Gregory's home.



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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