The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney
Joseph Delaney has drawn on the landscape, history and legends of Lancashire to create this wonderful series of novel following Tom and the Spook’s adventures and their battles with all things dark, deadly and spooky!
Thomas Ward’s mother, ‘Mam’, had always had plans for her son. She had deliberately married his father because he was a seventh son to give birth to her own seventh son. Thomas was destined to learn to be a Spook, a man whose job was to deal with problems of a supernatural nature: boggarts, witches, ghosts and ghasts, things that go bump in the night and form a part of people’s deepest fears.
Mrs Ward was not originally from the County. Tom notices that there is a difference in her pronunciation of some words from the general population. She also knows Greek, which she had taught Tom. This was not her only talent, as she was the local healer and midwife; and she can see things that other can’t, a gift that is shared by her son. Now 13 years old it is time for Tom to undertake a trial period with the County’s Spook, Gregory. If he passes there will be a five-year apprenticeship to serve. Tom already knows this can be a lonely job and that Spooks are only welcomed when called upon; people are generally fearful and wary of their presence.
Mam is determined that he will take up this challenge and become a Spook; it has always been her ambition for him. Also, as the youngest of the family, he has to find some means to earn a living for himself as the farm will be inherited by his eldest brother, Jack. All his other brothers have moved on and made lives for themselves and now it is his turn. Tom doesn’t like farm work and finds the idea of the Spooks job exciting but scary; he knows that he will miss his family badly, but his mother gives him a supportive talk before he goes on his way.
The Spook reminds Tom of a wolf. He is lean and very fit as there is a lot of walking to be done in his line of work. Gregory is not impressed to learn that Tom is not very well travelled; to be a Spook he will have to get to know the county very well. To Tom’s horror he begins their journey to his summer home, near Anglezarke, by walking up and over the hill behind the farm, known locally as Hangman Hill. Tom had always been wary of this place. It had been the scene of a mass hanging after a battle, and often Tom would hear noises coming from the area and so he had always avoided going there. Traversing the hill would provide Tom with his first lesson, that some supernatural entities feed on fear and by facing that fear you can diminish or even defeat it. The ghasts he sees hanging are just reflections that cannot do anything to him (unlike ghosts), as his fear fades so do the ghasts. The Spook admits that this gift of sight can also be a curse.
Before they get to the Spook’s home, they go to the mining village of Horshaw and to Tom’s first test to see if he has the qualities, and courage, to become the Spook’s Apprentice: a haunted house! It is personal qualities that make a Spook; they don’t rely on magic but on common sense, courage and the keeping of accurate records. The Spook has a system of categorisation of all the varied supernatural entities using Greek lettering and Roman numerals classifying the type, strength and level of danger posed by the creature in question. At least Tom’s grounding in Greek has its uses here.
As they travel out to what will be Tom’s home whilst he is learning, he gets a first taste of how Spooks are treated. The local priest scowls as they pass and makes the sign of the cross. People know that where the Spook is there is some source of frightening trouble that they would have little protection against. The Spook’s job is indeed an isolated and lonely one which gives Tom some pause for thought. The journey, all on foot, is long and tiring, with just a little bit of cheese to eat to go on. As a Spook, Tom is informed, hard walking and hunger are something he would need to get used to and this journey was the first part of a process of toughening up for the work ahead. They eventually arrived at his house to a warm fireplace and abundant food provided by someone, or something residing there. Tom is too exhausted to question who or what it is and in the following days is so busy he just falls into bed each night into a deep sleep.
The Spook takes Tom on tour of his gardens which includes the section where a dangerous witch, Mother Malkin, is imprisoned in a pit covered with iron bars. A live witch was dangerous, a dead one was even more powerful and deadly. Witches will come to form a part of Tom’s training, but for his first year the focus is on Boggarts. In the light of future events Tom would have been better to start with the study of witches. Pendle was a particularly active area for them.
Gregory warns Tom not to trust women, which peeves Tom as, after all, his mother was a woman and one who only did the best for others. Gregory also warns Toms about village girls, especially ones with pointy shoes. Unfortunately, it is precisely this sort of girl who Toms meets on one of his visits to the village to pick up the weekly food supply. He has a run in with a gang of village boys, who want to have some of the provisions. Before this confrontation descends into a physical fight the boys are seen off by a young girl who they are terrified of. Her name is Alice, and she is from a family of witches and is destined to become a witch herself. As one good turn deserves another, Alice extracts a promise from Tom to help her if she needs it. Unwisely, Tom does not tell the Spook of this meeting or the promise.
When Alice does call in the promise Tom releases a deadly evil, one which he has to resolve himself with the Spooks help. This is not only a threat to his life, but to the lives of his family as well. Alice is at the centre of Tom’s troubles, but it is difficult to decide whether she is a friend or an enemy or a little mixture of both. Will she turn out to be good or evil; only time will tell. Tom has mixed feelings about her, a friend but one who could be a source of great trouble to him. The Spook certainly doesn’t want her near him. He acknowledges that Tom has learnt a great deal in a short time despite his mistakes, and we all learn from mistakes after all. Tom knows now how hard and dangerous this job will be, but he is determined to make his Mam proud and be the best Spook the county has ever seen.
Written by Library staff member Janet
Written by Janet - Library Assistant
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