Title: Grimalkin, The Witch Assassin (The Last Apprentice, Book 9)
Author: Joseph Delaney
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: April 17, 2012
Hardcover: 387 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No, but quite a few hares are consumed.
Before this morning, I hadn’t read a book in “The Last Apprentice” series in over a year. Given my great love for them, I was surprised to find that three had been published in that time and were awaiting my attentions. I put all three in my “To Be Read” stack for today. I also hadn’t read one since moving to Salem. Something about reading such a traditional, witchy narrative in Witch City really appealed to me. I even contemplated forgoing my beach plan in order to take them downtown & read them in the The Old Burying Point Cemetery, where the Salem Witch Trial judge, John Hathorne is buried. But I won’t be doing that. Because sadly, this book really disappointed me. I’ve even taken the other two out of my stack, in fear that my disappointment will slow me down.
“Grimalkin, The Witch Assassin” isn’t just about Grimalkin, it’s narrated by her. She’s allied herself with Tom Ward, the usual narrator and boy-apprentice to The Spook, in order to keep the Devil himself from manifesting within and seizing control of the world. With a precious object in her possession, she ignores her nature impulse to fight and flees instead (leaving Tom, Alice, and the Spook behind), doing her best to keep that object out of the hands of her enemies.
I much prefer Tom’s narrative voice (or Alice’s). Grimalkin is certainly bad-ass. There are tales interspersed throughout, about how she became the head assassin for the Malkin clan by defeating the incumbent, prying herself off of a six-foot spike in order to drive the killing blow home; or about how she outfought a pack of starving, snarling wolves singlehandedly, leaving “seven blood-spattered bodies” behind her, “staining the white snow red” (138). But she’s also very logical, calculating and humorless, which made the story fairly monotone. Some tenderness is shown toward Thorne, her girl apprentice, who is a new character and one I liked reading about. But she was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary telling.
Not only were the point of view and tone a let-down, but Delaney’s prose was clumsily repetitive. By page 38 (out of nearly 400), Grimalkin had repeated that she loved fighting seven times , and also that she hated running – again, seven times. (It’s kind of funny that I chose to stop at page 38 in order to count and that my count yielded those particular results, given that much of what makes Tom Ward special is that he’s the seventh son of a seventh son. Double sevens abound!).
Even the illustrations, which are usually these great, eerie pen & ink scratchings, were subpar in Book 9. There’s one of Alice summing her powers, with what is supposed to be her white hair billowing all around her, that fails to convey the image properly. She looks like a bald alien, wearing a sweatshirt, standing in front of a flame. And there’s another where the shadows are so dark that they render the text nearly unreadable (although the second might just be the result of a failed, smudgy printing, in which case the author, the illustrator, and the publisher all failed to impress).
I guess I can’t complain too much. This is the first book out of the four I’ve read for the challenge that I haven’t absolutely loved. I just hope the rest of today’s reads go better. And I will finish the series — eventually — in addition to reading some Amazon reviews to see why on earth it’s got 49 customer reviews with an average of 4.5 stars.
Pooka Rating: 2 out of 5 Nibbles