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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Most people don't need to know how to trap a boggart, as Tom Ward shows his apprentice, Jenny, but they may enjoy learning about different kinds of witches, the difference between ghosts and ghasts, and more instead of comparing them with other lore about such creatures and where it comes from.
Equality is a big one. One chapter is entitled "Times Are Changing," and Tom stands firm and takes on a girl apprentice even though all the other Spooks look down upon it. As always with books dealing with ghosts and spooky things, the theme of good vs. evil is inherent, and the importance of bravery is stressed.
Positive Role Models
Tom goes from pupil to teacher and is somewhat uncomfortable in his new role. He wisely follows his old master's lead on most things -- teaching Jenny exactly the way he was taught -- but, even more wisely, he knows when to do things his own way, such as the decision to take on a girl apprentice when it's never been done. Jenny's persistent in her goal of wanting to be an apprentice. When her resolve is shaken because of fear, she keeps going anyway.
Violence & Scariness
Lots of ghost spookiness mixed with some gore, especially when a very creepy, very intelligent monster drinks blood with mentions that he's killed three girls (the ghost of one girl describes it) and a scene wherein he's hung another girl upside down and drinks her blood with a straw in her throat and there are bite marks all over her body. Other gory scenes involve fighting a giant tentacled creature and taking its eyeballs and "lancing them like boils." Heads are severed with swords in one-on-one fighting. Bones of children are discovered where a witch lived, "some wet with blood." A body's washed for burial and then buried in a sad scene. Tom mentions the sad death of his mentor. Jenny discovers her birth mother before her mother dies from illness. Talk of how Jenny's foster father beat her with a belt, and plenty of talk about how certain ghosts died -- such as soldiers hung from trees and a man who killed his wife in jealousy and then buried her in the basement before she was dead.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Quick mention that men are drinking ale at an inn.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A New Darkness is the start of a trilogy that picks up where The Last Apprentice series left off. It's possible to read this book without reading the other series, but there are many references to past adventures that may be confusing if you haven't at least read the first in the other series, Revenge of the Witch. In A New Darkness, the main character, Tom, is a Spook -- someone who keeps ghosts, boggarts, witches, and other dark creatures in check. So readers should expect to be very spooked when they meet the new darkness in question, a hairy shape-shifting creature that drinks blood. In one scene, he hangs a girl upside down and drinks it through a straw. There are other moments of gore, as well. A witch steals little children, and bones with blood still on them are found in her house; people are decapitated with swords in one-on-one battles; and a giant tentacled creature gets his eyeballs lanced with swords. A big change in this series: The Spook's new apprentice is a girl. None of the other Spooks is willing to train her, but Tom recognizes that times are changing.
Is It Any Good?
There are many reasons Joseph Delaney's Last Apprentice series was incredibly popular, and the good news for fans is that there's more of the same here. The world full of ghosts, witches, and other dark scary stuff is easy to get lost in, and Tom is a great character -- earnest, brave, talented, smart, and very humble. Tom the Spook is still hard at work in A NEW DARKNESS. The darkness in question is quite outside the realm of the usual witches and boggarts, but it's captivating all the same. The better news for girl fans: the addition of a female character who isn't a child-eating witch or suspicious witch assassin. And Jenny brings her own talents to the table. Not much is developed yet, but her power of empathy seems impressive.
Overall, little seems fully developed yet. It's one of those series books all too visibly trying hard to save some mystery and excitement for the other books. Readers will get quite a cliff-hanger out of it but will be wishing for more.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.