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Literature / The Wardstone Chronicles

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The Wardstone Chronicles is a series of dark YA fantasy books by Joseph Delaney.

The series chronicles the events during the training of Thomas J. Ward under the tutelage of John Gregory, the County's local Spook, whose job is to protect the locals from the dark. And what is the dark? Every horrible, evil, going-bump-in-the-night thing you can imagine, from boggarts to witches and everything in between.

The series' books include:

  • The Spook's Apprentice - 2004
  • The Spook's Curse - 2005
  • The Spook's Secret - 2006
  • The Spook's Battle - 2007
  • The Spook's Mistake - 2008
  • The Spook's Sacrifice - 2009
  • The Spook's Nightmare - 2010
  • The Spook's Destiny - 2011
  • Spook's: I Am Grimalkin - 2011
  • The Spook's Blood - 2012
  • Spook's: Slither's Tale - 2012
  • Spook's: Alice - 2013
  • The Spook's Revenge - 2013

And a number of "side" books that provide further background on the characters, creatures, and settings in-universe:

  • The Spook's Tale - 2009
  • Spook's Stories: Witches - 2009
  • The Spook's Bestiary - 2010

As well as a sequel trilogy:

  • A New Darkness - 2014
  • The Dark Army - 2016
  • Dark Assassin - 2017

The series is notable for running mainly on old-school European superstitions about magic, witches, demons and the like—because even though you're likely to find the books in the children's section of the bookstore, you don't want to read these to your kid at bedtime.

And, certainly, they are not to be read after dark. Especially page 47!

The series was loosely adapted into a movie called Seventh Son, starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Djimon Hounsou and Kit Harington.

This book series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: You don't mess with Grimalkin. The clans' warriors are pretty frightening in general, just like the witches who stay in the Combe.
    • Thorne and Alice as well.
  • All Witches Have Cats: Surprisingly averted. While cats are occasionally mentioned as possible familiars, we've yet to see a witch who has one.
  • And I Must Scream: The Spook buries witches to keep them from causing trouble. This is usually done because their spirits stick to the bones, but even live witches meet this fate. Then again, they get buried for a reason.
    • Alices' torture in the Fiends' domain...
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: The Dark Assassin ends with Tom turning into a Lamia after being tortured by the Kobalos Balkai then he slaughters his enemies and drinks their blood.
  • Animal Eye Spy: 'Familiar' magic seems to be this.
  • Anti Anti Christ: Alice.
    • According to the thing itself, any pure human male child of the devil will grow to be one of his most terrible adversaries, possibly on par with Tom.
  • Anyone Can Die: Many recuring allies die over the course of the series. Tom's parents, Bill Arkwright, Agnes Sowerbutts, John Gregory, Meg Skelton, Grimalkin, Judd Brinscall and Jenny Calder are all dead by the end of Dark Assassin though Grimalkin can still travel back and forth between the Dark and the world of living.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Lampshaded; the man in charge of Pendle, while otherwise a good man, is a Flat-Earth Atheist who doesn't believe in witches. Tom is absolutely amazed to hear that someone could possibly believe witches don't exist while being in charge of the place with the biggest population of witches in the whole country.
  • Armies Are Evil: Among kidnappings, attacks and general destruction, armies are really unpopular in the series.
  • Back from the Dead: All witches can rise from the dead as mostly conscious zombie-like creatures, unless they're properly bound or if their heart is taken out.
  • Battle Couple: Tom and Alice.
  • Because Destiny Says So: It's safe to say that many readers have stopped bothering to keep track of how many grand prophecies people make in these books.
  • Black-and-White Morality: It starts off as this but eventually falls to Black-and-Grey Morality as Tom has to make larger and larger compromises with the dark to the point of selling his soul to The Fiend.
    • The Black/Grey becomes only stronger over time and by the end of book 7, the Spook has not only TOLD Alice to use a mirror, he basically recruited Grimalkin to help destroy the Fiend.
  • Blood Magic: One of the various types of powers witches can draw on. It's Mother Malkin's signature method.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Tom and Alice
    • Subverted because They both have a nonhuman parent.
  • Burn the Witch!: One of two sure-fire ways to permanently destroy a witch. Unfortunately, it tends to happen to good and falsely accused witches most of the time.
    • Even almost happens to the Spook.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: True witches are unable to cross running water.
  • Captain Obvious: Tom Ward is also prone to this, but in the 8th book we see that even Satan himself does this:
    "She is trapped in the dark for eternal torment. Eternal! That means it will go on forever!"
  • The Cat Came Back: The Spook repeatedly tries to send Alice away to limit her involvement with Tom, yet they never stay separated for long.
  • Chained to a Rock: Tom's mother was chained to a rock with silver chains when his father first saw her. After he rescued her they got married.
  • Chess with Death: Tom vs. the Fiend.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Alice. It would put a damper on the fun if she had to ask her mom every time she wanted to run off with Tom.
  • Crapsack World: The county, post-Fiend.
    • Even normally, it's pretty terrible, with the poverty disease, high rate of violent crime, witches, and constant threat of death at the hands of various monsters.
  • Create Your Own Hero: Grimalkin, while already not a fan of the Fiend, didn't seem to really care about him that much, and was still pretty much a villain in the setting. Only after he brutally killed their child did she go on a vendetta against him, eventually leading her to an Enemy Mine with the protagonists.
  • Cute Witch: Alice Deane
  • Dark Secret: Mam had a pretty big one.
  • Deal with the Devil: If you've gotten that far in the series, this doesn't need explaining. It's pretty hard to miss.
  • Departmentof Redundancy Department: From book eight we get Fiend:[Alice] is trapped in the dark for eternal torment. Eternal! That means it will go on forever!
  • Detect Evil: The chill spooks get whenever a Denizen of the Dark is near.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: From A Coven of Witches: Did Grimalkin just stab the Fiend in the arse?
  • Eldritch Abomination: Some forms of the Fiend, the Ordeen, the Bane, and many other creatures met by Tom Ward and John Gregory.
  • Enemy Mine: Grimalkin is apparently this by the end of book seven.
  • Empathic Weapon: Apparently, the Destiny Blade likes Tom.
  • Eye Scream: Grimalkin does this to the Fiend.
  • Faking the Dead: Alice, after being rolled.
  • Fed to Pigs: In the first book, it's brought up that small children are never allowed near the pigpens alone, as pigs will happily devour human meat and a small human is just a walking snack to them. Mother Malkin shouldn't have attempted to flee through the pigpen while she was shrunk and the pigs were agitated...
  • Fingore: The Spook's last apprentice, Billy, dies of blood loss when his hand is trapped underground with a malicious boggart. And later, Bony Lizzie removes the thumbs from his corpse. Additionally, the witches remove the thumb bones of enemies they kill to use as a source of power.
  • Forged by the Gods: Three legendary swords mentioned in book eight.
  • Freudian Trio: Alice (Id), Tom (Ego), the Spook (Superego).
  • Friendly Enemy: In book six, many witches, among them Grimalkin and Mab, put aside their differences and work with the spook-friendly troupe to stop the Ordeen.
  • Physical God: Tom's mother.
  • Gypsy Curse: The Pendle clans curse the Spook.
  • Heroic BSoD: Tom and Grimalkin both undergo this after learning that the one person they love most has been killed.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Tom's mother and Bill Arkwright die fighting the Ordeen and her forces.
    • Thorne as well. Though quite painfully it may have been a Senseless Sacrifice, as we never learn if her actions helped Grimalkin at all.
  • Hope Spot: Grimalkin and Thorne are convinced that the kindly healer Agnes Sowerbutts has been killed by agents of the Fiend. They learn that she is alive but in captivity, but she is tortured to death soon after and her body is unceremoniously left on the ground.
  • Hot Witch: Mab Mouldheel.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Abhumans are the deformed, monstrous children of the Fiend and one of his thousands of witch brides. They usually resemble normal people from a distance, but have a notable deformity (ranging from small tusks to full lycanthropy) and are always evil.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Or rather, I Am Not Right-Handed. A tactic used by the spooks fits this, where they carry their staffs with their right hand and quickly toss it to their left to deliver Critical Hit.
  • Language of Magic: The Old Tongue seems to be this, in a lost language version.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Thorne
  • Lady of War: Grimalkin.
  • Loophole Abuse: It's said that one of the ways to permanently kill a witch is to eat her heart raw, which doesn't sound like a pleasant experience... but it doesn't say a human has to do the eating. It also doesn't say the heart alone has to be eaten, so a pig devouring a shrunken witch whole works just fine.
  • Love Epiphany: Tom realizes his feelings for Alice after the Fiend takes her to his dominiion.
  • Magical Seventh Son: Being the seventh son of a seventh son is literally a job requirement to be a spook.
  • Medieval Stasis: Kind of. The County is quite backward and in some isolated places castles are still very important for warfare. Only once is any sort of gun fired in the series, and soldiers (presumably from London) are the only people shown to have muskets.
  • Mysterious Mist: A lot of it.
  • Named Weapon: The Destiny Blade. Counts as a Meaningful Name, too.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: How many times has Tom accidentally caused the Monster of the Week (or book, rather) to end up being STRONGER as a result of not following instructions?
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The most terrifying parts of the series, including one scene early in the first book, use this trope to great extent.
  • Oh, Crap!: You really shouldn't have given Mother Malkin those cakes, Tom.
  • One-Steve Limit: There're a couples of aversions. Both Tom's father and the Spook are named John and at one point in the first book Tom rescues a child named Tommy. There're also the Spook's former apprentices Billy Bradley and Bill Arkward.
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: Only true heroes may enter a sidhe.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Alice. While she is a witch, she does it only because she was born into that life. And she's also a victim of the ploy to get Mother Malkin's strength back.
  • A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: Morgan.
  • Religion is Magic: Inverted; faith won't help you at all against the dark. In fact, priests who overestimate their holy powers tend to get in trouble when they try to do a Spook's job. On the other hand, it's specified in Book Six that some religious elements, such as the monks' songs, have some actual power (in this case, restraining the Ordin)
  • Screw Destiny: The Spook claims he makes his own path. For now.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: In the fifth book, the hero is forced to separate a beautiful selkie from her aging husband. In the series, selkies age very slowly, and are considered bad luck or are taught to be prostitutes.
  • Skeleton Key: Tom and Mr. Gregory have skeleton keys provided by Gregory's brother, a locksmith.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Horn has this, in that he can detect darkness in people.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Most of the books are told by The Hero Tom but I Am Grimalkin, Slither's tale and Alice are told by the titular characters while A New Darkness and The Dark Army the narrative is shared between Tom and his apprentice Jenny. The Dark Assassin however is told by Tom and Grimalkin.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: What spooks regularly combat.
  • We Can Rule Together: The Fiend is constantly trying this on Tom because it means he'll rule for eternity.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The County. Although Word of God says it's based upon Lancashire in England.
    • It's actually quite obvious to those who live there. Pendle, and Roughlee are real towns, Heysham is a real village and Preisttown is certainly supposed to be Preston, the small city which is the most populous town in the county even today. Caster is Lancaster the capital. The Wardstone, mentioned in the books' preface, is an actual hill called Wardstone.
  • Who You Gonna Call?: Spooks fit this to a tee.
  • Wicked Witch: Mother Malkin. Bony Lizzie is more of a Vain Sorceress in terms of appearance.
  • Widow Witch: Poor lonely Agnes Sowerbutts.
  • Willfully Weak: From book eight: [about using serious dark magic] Alice: I've always had more power than I've shown to you, Tom.
  • You Can't Fight Fate Averted by the Spook in the final book. Though cursed to die alone underground, he changes his fate by dying in battle against the Fiend's army.

Alternative Title(s): The Last Apprentice