Wilderlore: The Accidental Apprentice

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Book Review

As a young boy, Barclay was left as an orphan after a ferocious beast from the Woods nearly destroyed his town of Dullshire. Now 11, Barclay simply hopes to live the average life of a mushroom farmer. It’s boring, but safe. But when he accidentally bonds with a wolflike magical beast, he’s left in a state of horrified shock. Worse, he’s banished from Dullshire with nowhere to seek answers but the dreaded Woods itself.

Plot Summary

Eleven-year-old Barclay’s hometown of Dullshire isn’t a flashy place. In fact, it’s the total opposite of flashy. Everything here is buttoned down and kept in order: a place where rules rein. Sneezing is prohibited in Dullshire’s town square, for instance, and there are no tournaments of beanbag or hopscotch. It’s against the rules to even run in Dullshire. And though Barclay dearly loves to run, he understands and accepts that the rules are all designed to keep people and their things safe.

Safe is good.

It was thanks to something unsafe that Barclay became an orphan. Something happened years ago that caused a great, ferocious beast from the nearby Woods to rampage. The massive magical creature nearly destroyed Dullshire and other surrounding communities, and it left Barclay an orphan.

Life hasn’t been easy since then, but Barclay has made his way. Safely. He even became an apprentice to a local mushroom farmer. It’s a dirty and dull job, but it suits Barclay just fine. And if his thoughts ever stray to exciting things or exotic adventures—things he never pursues—he can always read a book and get them out of his system. There are no rules against that.

One day, however, while out hunting for a special mushroom that only pops up once a year near the edges of those dreaded Woods, something terrible happens. Barclay strays too far and accidentally bonds with a magical beast called a Lufthund.

Now some might have celebrated something like that happening.  Not only does it give Barclay the ability to summon the large wolflike creature in times of need, but it also affords him a bit of magical power (or Lore) that he can use on his own. It makes him what people call a Lore Keeper. But Barclay is horrified by the fact. Mushroom farmers don’t need magical beasts or Lore. They need plain, ordinary, dirty and dull. They need safe. But everything has now changed.

In fact, when the folks of Dullshire find out about Barclay’s new beasty connections, they rise up to send him away. Lore Keepers are considered unsafe. And they break at least a dozen or more rules by their very existence.

Barclay knows there must be some way to remove this magical connection he’s suffering through—a connection that creates a gold, rippling tattoo of sorts, which wriggles and pulses on his arm and shoulder. There must be someone with answers. There is only one place where he can go to find though answers, though, only one direction he can head.

Into the Woods.

Christian Beliefs

None

Other Belief Systems

Barclay soon learns that his world is divided into two parts: There’s the human part—towns like Dullshire and Drearyfeld—and then there’s the Woods and beyond. Those places—the Woods, the Desert, the Jungle and the Mountains—are all magical and populated with Lore Keepers and beasts. In fact, nearly everyone in those lands has some kind of magical connection with a beast and tattoos that represent them. There are six different levels, or classes, of magical beasts based on their rarity or power (they range in size, too, from tiny to gigantic). Barclay’s Wulfhund just happens to be one of the rarer ones and it gives him the ability to create magical gusts of wind and run very quickly (like the wind).

Other Lore Keepers wield the ability to zap foes with lightning or swallow up sound or create illusions, etc. Some of the magic creatures are creepy looking and ghost-like, too. Though they’re always seen as a creature that populates the Woods rather than anything spiritual or tied to an afterlife.

Authority Roles

In the human world of Dullshire, the adults tend to be incredibly focused on routine and rules and little else. Barclay is apprenticed to a farmer who is a good man named Master Pilzmann. He cares about Barclay but doesn’t do much to help him—beyond getting him safely away—after the boy bonds with his beast.

In the Lore-focused parts of the world, Barclay runs into a variety of adults that range from fair and firm to weak and duplicitous. Runa Rasgar, for instance, is a no-nonsense Guardian who eventually promises to help Barclay with his problem. She is stern, but generally good. Soren Reiker, on the other hand, promises to help, too. But his form of help involves cutting off Barclay’s arm so as to steal away his rare beast and gain its power. Soren pins down Barclay twice in an effort to cut into him.

The Lore keepers themselves are divided into several different classes or groups. Apothecaries, for instance, use their Lore to create potions and other magical applications. Scholars study Lore and its beginnings. Guardians protect the wild beasts and the surrounding towns and villages. Etc.

Barclay also meets several younger Lore Keepers who aid him along his quest to find freedom from his unwanted attachment. Some are good and trustworthy friends, but some are not. Viola Dumont is one of the solid, reliable friends that Barclay makes. She is from a respected family and, like Barclay, trying to find her best path forward. She teaches Barclay about Lore. She helps him and eventually is willing to give dearly to keep him safe. In fact, Viola helps Barclay realize that there are people in the world that can actually care for him and give him a sense of belonging—something that he grew up without.

Profanity & Violence

No foul language here, though one narrated event notes that a person “let out a word that was forbidden in Dullshire.” One of the female guardians is an older woman who usually sits in a local guild house (a building that looks and acts much like a pub) surrounded by empty beer mugs.

There’s quite a lot of peril and danger in the story, from both huge magical beasts as well as nasty people. Soren Reiker, for instance, is a constant threat and he does duplicitous, self-serving things with no care for who might be hurt, or even killed, in the process.

Barclay is bullied and shoved around by kids his own age. He also ends up with a large wound on his upper arm during the bonding process with his beast. The boy protagonist also has to run and defend himself from large creatures such as a Styerwurm (a gigantic bark-covered worm that disguises itself as a tree) and a Gravaldor (a massive bear-like beast that can destroy whole towns). And there are a number of other powerful and sometimes creepy creatures in the mix. During magical classes and contests, young Lore Keepers are afflicted with heavy rashes, pummeled by opponents and knocked out. It’s noted that the competition could be fierce enough to lead to someone dying, but no one does.

Sexual Content

With time, Barclay and Viola become good friends who rely upon one another, but there isn’t anything romantic between them at this point in the book series.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Barclay felt like an outsider who always had to work hard for anything good in life. And he longed for a place he could call home. Do you ever feel any of those things? What kinds of positive choices did this story suggest might help you?

Barclay and Viola are very different—from their up-bringing to their views on life—but they become good friends. Why do you think that happened? How do their choices and interactions relate to the real world you live in?

What do you think it means to “belong” somewhere? Are there places and people in your life that help you feel like you belong? What makes that sort of thing happen? What can you do to help others feel like they belong?  Do you think it’s possible to form a kind of family bond with someone you’re not related to?

Read John 15: 19 and 1 John 3:1. Do you think this story can relate to those verses in some ways? What did you like most about the book?

Additional Comments

This book is set up as the first entry in a series of Wilderlore books. But the story stands well on its own. Accidental Apprentice is also a very easy and satisfying read: a title that imaginatively transports young readers into a world of magic and action while speaking glowingly of the joy of friendship and the comfort of finding a place to belong.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

 Review by Bob Hoose

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