June 23, 2011


The Last Apprentice, Book Eight: Rage of the Fallen. By Joseph Delaney. Illustrations by Patrick Arrasmith. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Vampire Kisses 8: Cryptic Cravings. By Ellen Schreiber. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $16.99.

The Vampire Diaries: Stefan’s Diaries #3—The Craving. Based on the novels by L.J. Smith and the TV series developed by Kevin Williamson & Julie Plec. HarperTeen. $9.99.

Poison Apple Book: Her Evil Twin. By Mimi McCoy. Scholastic. $5.99.

     Once readers settle comfortably into a supernatural series, they frequently want more of the same – variations on a theme, as it were. And that is just what all these books provide. The Last Apprentice series is a British creation that is called, in England, the Spook series – but apparently that title was deemed too spooky (or something) for U.S. consumption, just as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for Britain’s onetime American colonies. The eighth book in Joseph Delaney’s well-paced and generally well-written series, originally published as The Spook’s Destiny, is called Rage of the Fallen in its Greenwillow edition – and follows the continuing path of the Spook’s apprentice, Thomas Ward, and his witchy friend, Alice. The three have fled their own country, where war rages, and now find themselves in a thinly disguised Ireland, with new supernatural evils to battle and the overhanging threat of the Morrigan, goddess of witches – added to the previous overhanging threat of the Fiend, a sort of Satanic master of all evil who is nevertheless fond of producing human (or partly human) children and can, under the right circumstances, be trapped and thwarted, at least temporarily. That is one part of the plot here, with much of the rest revolving around goat mages (bad guys) and the sometimes-goaty god Pan, who can appear benign or terrifying, depending on his mood and how he is treated. Tom’s interactions with the various good and bad characters are, as usual, well crafted, and Patrick Arrasmith’s illustrations are a major plus for the book, being genuinely atmospheric and downright eerie – one of a witch’s mouth pouring forth thick, black smoke is truly scary. The problem with this series is that Tom, on some levels, learns so little from book to book: he still goes off on ill-fated adventures, conveniently forgetting all his protective items even though by now (after three years as an apprentice) he really should know better. In addition, for the convenience of the plot, Delaney still manipulates characters a little too obviously: when a witch bent on revenge is allowed to live by a vicious assassin who has her at bay, it is quite clear that the witch will cause further mischief and nearly cost Tom his life later in the book. The creakiness of the plot aside, Rage of the Fallen is a fine addition to this ongoing series, by whatever name it is known.

     The word “craving” seems to be a natural for vampire series, appearing in the titles of the latest Vampire Kisses and Vampire Diaries books. Of course, the titles have little to do with the books’ plots – they are designed simply to pull in fans of these well-established series. Vampire Kisses, set amusingly in a town called Dullsville, is one the vampire-wanna-be sequences, with Raven continuing to wonder whether her glamorous vampiric boyfriend, Alexander, will ever turn her so they can spend eternity together. Come to think of it, that’s a long time – is that what Raven really wants? The relationship question plays out against a plan by the evil vampire Jagger to open a club – rather transparently called the Crypt – in Dullsville, and what sort of evil that plan (barely) conceals. It is utterly impossible to take this book seriously: “I imagined creating a custom coffin for Alexander and me – perhaps a double-wide coffin that looked like a huge heart.” But fans of the series will find it to be just what they expect – and want. Ditto for fans of Vampire Diaries, a TV series on The CW network that has spawned (and that is the right word) a series of book series, including Vampire Diaries itself, The Return, The Secret Circle and Stefan’s Diaries. The third in this last sequence continues exploring (although not very deeply) the relationship between brothers Stefan and Damon, with the former (nominally “good”) trying to get closer to his lost humanity, while the latter (nominally “bad” and therefore more complex and interesting) becomes less human all the time. Enter a truly evil, revenge-seeking vampire who forces the brothers to overlook their deep (well, not very deep) differences and work together, and you have the plot. You also have the writing: “A quick, silent trip to the kitchen revealed exactly what I had hoped – rats, of course. …With a flash of my hand I grabbed one and broke its neck, sucking the poor thing dry, all without losing control. It was easy, with such disgusting fare.” Those who consider this stylish will consider the book likewise.

     There is no particular pretense of style in the Poison Apple books, either. They are not a numbered series and are all self-contained, but all follow similar plot lines in which possibly supernatural events affecting tween girls turn out to have rational explanations. Or sometimes not. The balance between natural and unnatural varies from book to book, but the scares remain mild and the writing straightforward. Her Evil Twin, the sixth Poison Apple book, brings back the author of the first, The Dead End. But Mimi McCoy’s writing is not significantly different from that of other series contributors: “The waitress sloshed coffee into two cups that were already on the table. Emma ordered a turkey sandwich for them to share. The waitress wrote their order down on a little pad, stuck her pen behind her ear, and shuffled off to the kitchen.” As for the plot, it involves rather timid nice-girl Anna and her fearless new friend, Emma, a troublemaker whose antics tend to result in Anna -- not Emma herself – getting caught. “Was she trying to set Anna up? But why? That is about as profound as the questions get here. Is Emma an imaginary “bad girl” who has somehow come to life, or a real person who is victimizing Anna for reasons of her own, or what? Anna eventually learns who and what Emma is, has a narrow escape, and manages to re-make some shattered friendships, slamming a door with satisfaction on the Emma experience and getting Poison Apple fans ready for the next book, an excerpt of which appears at the end of this one. The chills are mild, the stories forgettable, but the Poison Apple books are fine for girls looking for just a taste of the sort of writing that will eventually blossom (if that is the right word) into series such as Vampire Kisses and Vampire Diaries.

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