Study Guide

Revenge of the Witch (The Last Apprentice) Themes

  • Duty

    There are many real-world occupations that require a strong sense of duty: police officer, fire fighter, teacher, soldier. In Tom's world, being the Spook's apprentice can be added to this list. Maybe in place of "soldier," actually, because we're not sure if those even exist in Revenge of the Witch. Tom is the one who defends the public against enemies—enemies of the supernatural persuasion, that is. And it's a thankless job. No one really expresses gratitude to Tom for completing his duties, and some people are outright hostile toward him. But a Spook's apprentice has got to do what a Spook's apprentice has got to do.

    Questions About Duty

    1. What are Tom's duties as the Spook's apprentice?
    2. What are the Spook's duties to the County? Why does he do them even though many fear him?
    3. What duties does Tom's mam give to Alice around the farm? How do they differ from what Alice does for Bony Lizzie?

    Chew on This

    Tom's hard work ethic on the farm benefits him as the Spook's apprentice; both of these jobs require hard work with little promise of external reward.

    Alice benefits from the structure she gets by helping Tom's mam on the farm. A good work ethic leaves little room for witchcraft, so this work helps keep her good.

  • Isolation

    Digging pits. Spending the night in haunted houses. Feeding witches. Tom's pretty lonely doing his duty in Revenge of the Witch. He's got a job like that of a soldier, but he's a real "Army of One." Unlike military men in our world, who all live together, work together, and fight together, Tom only has The Spook. And the Spook is more a mentor figure than a friend. Poor Tom. His particularly creepy job often scares people away. And besides that, just being 100% dedicated to doing your duty, whether you want to or not, can be pretty isolating.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Is the Spook lonely? Why or why not, do you think?
    2. Why is Tom's job as the Spook's apprentice isolating?
    3. When does Tom feel the most alone? When does he feel closest to others?
    4. Do you think Alice ever feels alone? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    When Tom works hard, he doesn't realize that he's lonely; once he stops working, the realization hits him, and his loneliness is more difficult to bear than ever.

    Tom is told that if he's comfortable with himself, and with his gift, he won't be lonely. When he leaves Alice at the end of the book, he's lonely again. So either he's not comfortable with himself yet, or this advice is a load of hooey.

  • Fear

    When there's something spooky going down—maybe a boggart in the basement, or a witch possessing your best friend—who do the people of the County call?‎ The Spook, of course. And Tom ain't afraid of no ghast. Okay, maybe he's a little scared. But after living with his mother, who isn't afraid of anything (and is actually kind of scary in her own way), there isn't much that fazes him. Plus, as part of his training, Tom learns that the scariest things are all in your head. Revenge of the Witch teaches us that once you try to see where other people—or ghosts, ghouls, and witches—are coming from, there's not much left to be afraid of.

    Questions About Fear

    1. What is Tom afraid of? What does he learn to not be afraid of? 
    2. Why isn't Alice afraid of Tom? Should she be? 
    3. How did the Spook get over his fears? Do his methods work for everyone? Do you think the Spook ever gets scared?

    Chew on This

    The evil witches—Mother Malkin and Bony Lizzie—target Tom because they are afraid of him.

    Tom defeats his fear by feeling empathetic toward the ghosts and witches who scare him. Once he understands them, he is not afraid of them.

  • Rules and Order

    Whether working on the farm or fighting off ghosts, there are always rules to follow on any job. It's unlikely that Tom's family has a Farmer's Almanac, but we know that running a farm takes planning and perseverance. You don't plant potatoes in August or pick strawberries in December. Being the Spook's apprentice isn't much different. Tom has to learn the rules all over again, and the Spook gives him enough to fill a book. Literally. Revenge of the Witch might as well be titled So You Want to be a Spook

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. Are all the Spook's rules intended for Tom's safety? What other purposes might they serve?
    2. What rules does Tom break accidentally? What rules does he break on purpose?
    3. When the rules are broken, are the consequences fair? Why or why not?
    4. How do the rules and order on Tom's farm benefit Alice?

    Chew on This

    When you break the Spook's rules, there are always consequences, whether the infraction is intentional or not… and sometimes, those consequences are fatal.

    Writing down rules gives them more weight. Tom learns the rules of witches, boggarts, and ghasts better when he writes them down.

  • Courage

    When was the last time you faced your fear? And what fear were you facing? Did you try sky diving? Live with a spider in your house? Say "boo" to a monster under your bed. But wait, there aren't any monsters in our world. There are in Revenge of the Witch, however. And Tom battles them, using only his wits and a big stick. Most adults in his world flee at the merest hint of a witch or a boggart. So it's easy to forget that Tom is only thirteen years old. We can only imagine what he'll be facing when he's an adult. Sky diving spiders possessed by witches? In any case, there's no debating the fact that this kid's very courageous.

    Questions About Courage

    1. Does the Spook's apprentice need to be courageous? What aspects of the job require the most bravery?
    2. Is Tom inherently courageous, or does he have to learn to be brave?
    3. Tom says his mam is braver than he is. Do you agree? Who is braver than Tom?
    4. Is Alice courageous?

    Chew on This

    Tom has to talk himself into bravery a lot of times. It seems that courage and level-headedness might go hand in hand.

    Tom's not always courageous. When his family needs him most, he runs away. Sometimes it takes two to be courageous—he's able to vanquish Mother Malkin once and for all once he teams up with Alice.

  • Family

    If you can't hire enough people to run your farm, you'll just have to have more kids. That seems to be what Tom's family has done for a generation or two in Revenge of the Witch. Not only is Tom's father the seventh of who knows how many kids, but Tom, too, is the seventh son. They'd need all the food on the farm just to host a family reunion. See, the downside to having such a large family is that the assets get spread pretty thin. Tom is the heir to a whopping zero-dollar fortune, which is why he has to take an apprenticeship with the Spook. It's as if the oldest Duggar child inherited the reality TV show bank, while the youngest had to guest star on Ghost Hunters just to make ends meet. Tom's family is very important to him. But once he starts training to become a Spook, we're not so sure Tom's family feels the same way about him anymore—except, perhaps, his mysterious mam.

    Questions About Family

    1. Do you think Tom's family is a close family? Which family member is Tom closest to?
    2. How does Alice's family shape who she is? How does Alice change when she is welcomed into Tom's family?
    3. What is the Spook's relationship like with his family? How does he get along with his brothers?
    4. How does the Spook's relationship with his brothers mirror Tom's relationship with Jack?
    5. Are Tom and the Spook a kind of family?

    Chew on This

    Family is important, but families change. When Jack and Ellie have their own child, they put their baby above anyone else, including Tom.

    Different people from different backgrounds become the Spook. Tom's family and the Spook's family seem to be polar opposites, but they both end up fighting evil.

  • The Supernatural

    In pop fiction, supernatural beings can take many forms, from vampires and werewolves, to angels, zombies, and fairies (or "faeries," or however the kids are spelling it these days). Typically, these beings are used for romantic effect—because the authors want to create dreamy, ethereal worlds where danger exists, but so do great loves. Well, we're here to tell you that Revenge of the Witch is very different from these other pop fiction worksin case the intimidating title and dark cover didn't tip you off. The supernatural creatures featured in this book are things that go bump in the night.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Are all this world's supernatural creatures bad and/or scary?
    2. What mundane things are given supernatural twists in Tom's world?
    3. What supernatural elements in the book are familiar to you? Which have you never heard of?

    Chew on This

    Joseph Delaney takes popular supernatural tropes, like witches and ghosts, and gives them gritty, realistic twists by rooting them in a world that seems real. And really dangerous, we might add.

    Even though Tom himself is not supernatural, he has the ability to communicate with supernatural creatures. In a way, then, the Spook serves as a bridge between the two worlds. But he's more like a drawbridge, because he helps people and things cross over as often as he holds them back.

  • Women and Femininity

    Historically, apprenticeships were always given to men—you know, like most things in life. You're much more likely to see the terms "Master in Journeyman" with regards to trades than "Mistress" or "Journeywoman." Even Donald Trump gives most of his apprenticeships to men. These prejudices still persist in the Revenge of the Witch universe, which isn't wholly unlike our own. The Spook has a strange aversion to those of the female persuasion, and he often tries to press his sexist views on Tom. But the women in this book are strong. It may surprise Tom and the Spook that Alice and Tom's mam can hold their own, but we never had any doubts.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. How would you characterize Tom's relationship with Alice?
    2. Do you think the Spook is a misogynist?
    3. Which female characters in the book are strong? Are there any who are stereotypically weak females? 
    4. Do you think it's significant that the main villains in the book are female? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The Spook must have had some bad relationships with women, because his fear of them is clearly derived from personal prejudices. It has no basis in fact.

    The Spook's opinions are totally valid. As we see from what Tom has to go through with Bony Lizzie, Mother Malkin, and Alice, some women really aren't to be trusted.