Book Review: The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of The Forbidden Library
Publisher: Kathy Dawson (April 21, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book lovers rejoice, here’s a series written just for us. Do you get a tingly, magical feeling when you walk into libraries and see all those glorious books? As a kid, did you ever wish that the fictional worlds within your books were real?
The Mad Apprentice and its predecessor The Forbidden Library gave me those same giddy feelings as I read them, proving that Middle Grade novels aren’t just for children. Whether you’re thirteen or thirty, I think bibliophiles will find plenty to love in these books, and Django Wexler’s writing style makes it very easy to just dive right in.
And speaking of diving right in, book two sees us catching up with our protagonist Alice, the young Reader with the ability to jump inside books. Through her mentor the enigmatic Uncle Geryon, Alice learns that there are more people like them out there, a whole cabal of ancient Readers who guard their secrets jealously, and that their entire community exists precariously upon a foundation of mistrust and circumspection.
The fragile peace is suddenly shattered with the death of one of the older Readers, and suspicion falls upon his young apprentice. Uncle Geryon sends Alice to help capture the boy and bring him to justice, but what should have been a simple assignment quickly goes downhill as she and her companions are lured into a labyrinth ruled by a sinister creature calling itself Torment. But Alice can’t give up; escaping the labyrinth and defeating Torment may be the only chance she has at finding the truth about her missing father.
This series continues to fascinate me. The Mad Apprentice is once again filled to the brim with strange new worlds and all kinds of fantastical creatures. Alice reunites with Isaac and makes the acquaintance of four other fellow Reader apprentices, each armed with their own special abilities gained from the mastery of a unique creature inside a prison book. Alice herself begins the novel by defeating a rampaging dinosaur, obtaining its power of speed and super strength. This book also introduces the idea of Reader masters “priming” their apprentices for certain roles by choosing the creatures they fight, so that will in turn determine the kinds of abilities their pupils will acquire. This just begs the question, do you think there might be fierce competition between apprentices for certain prison books, if the creature within possesses a particularly desirable power? This is why I love this series, the possibilities are endless!
The theme continues to be a lovely combination of light and dark, the bizarre and the wonderful. The story may be targeted for a middle grade audience, but readers of all ages should be able to appreciate the underlying messages and cheer for a strong young heroine who will not back down in the face of adversity. Alice is a born leader, taking charge of the group even though she neither the oldest nor the most experienced. She knows what she wants and will do anything to get it, but she also won’t sacrifice her beliefs in what is right to get ahead. It’s a dog eat dog world when it comes to Readers, which makes Alice’s kindness a quirk of sorts. Friendships are important to her, as are the creatures that are bound to her. If she can get a creature in a prison book to submit to her without killing it, or minimize the pain her creatures feel while borrowing their powers, she will do her best to make it so. Knowing this makes the ending of this novel so much more poignant, because once you get to know Alice’s character, it’s clear that she doesn’t make her final decision at the end lightly.
I still think the first book, The Forbidden Library, has a slight edge over this sequel mainly because there was more in terms of story. The Mad Apprentice is a fun and action-filled adventure, but doesn’t do a lot when it comes to forwarding the plot of the overall series, at least not until the very end. Hardly a deal-breaker though, and I’m sure children reading this will hardly mind as they’ll be too busy being thrilled by the sights and sounds of the labyrinth and getting to know the fascinating new characters. There will be beautiful illustrations gracing the pages of the book too, which my ARC did not have, so I’m excited to see the final images when the finished version comes out.
I loved this book and thought it was an impressive sequel to The Forbidden Library. Can’t wait for the third installment!
Other reviews in this series:
The Forbidden Library (Book 1)