This is reportedly the penultimate novel in the wickedly entertaining Wardstone Chronicles
. Yet the quality of any novel or series is not purely in how it entertains but also in the writing and in the way that characters and the story are created.
It is no secret that I rate this as one of my favourite young adult series. It is rather dark, but it appears to hold the right balance that I like in a novel, a balance whereby evil exists, tragedy happens but all happens to be resolved in the end.
I easily rated the previous novel [b:Slither|15818358|Slither (The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles, #11)|Joseph Delaney|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1355869023s/15818358.jpg|21549144] as one of the lesser works in this series simply because it was a filler novel. A novel that did little but fill in the minor details for the reader rather than progress the overall plot. The quality of writing did not diminish but the focus shifted dramatically as did the details.
One could say the focus shifts here too, as the reader observes how Alice undertakes a mission into the dark to find the final of three swords needed to finally defeat the Fiend. Alice is one of the most interesting characters in this series, because of all the characters she most exemplifies the fight between good and evil. She was raised to be an evil witch with a parentage of evil but yet makes a conscious choice to strive towards good. Tom on the other hand as a character is her opposite - raised good and struggles against the power of using evil.
That is the most fascinating aspect of this series to me: the battle between good and evil. Most of the time evil is shown as having the stronger power but I think that Joseph Delaney is hiding a truth about the nature of good and evil. Evil is simply easier to get power from - is it not easier to steal power (as bone witches and blood witches do) than to gain power through the act of self-discovery and purity?
As one of my university friends noted, this series has an incredible amount of subtlety which is its strength. And such key strengths are indeed recognised within this novel and then played upon to great effect, creating a story that recognises where the series has come from and where it is headed. Surely I am not the only one looking forward to the grand finale in the next book, due I believe, next year. All of which means that any reader interested in fantasy or young adult fiction should start racing through these novels. It will be worth your time.