Hans is on the run from his adoptive father, a grave robber who found him as a baby hidden inside a wooden box that washed ashore. Now fate has introduced Hans to Angela von Schwanenberg, a young countess fleeing the evil forces of Archduke Arnulf, who has chosen her to be the next in his long line of brides, and the dreaded Necromancer.
Together, Hans and Angela gallop through dark forests, treacherous lands and secret passageways on their quest to uncover the truth about Hans’ shadowy past and save Angela’s parents from the archduke’s monstrous asylum. In this world of highwaymen, hermits and dancing bears, anything is possible—even for a grave robber’s apprentice.
Brimming with action and ghoulish delights, The Grave Robber’s Apprentice is a grand fantasy adventure from one of Canada’s most acclaimed authors for young readers.
It’s pretty evident from this book that author Allan Stratton loves theatre, and in particular puppetry and the plays of Shakespeare. This story is brimming with long-lost relatives, helpful secondary characters, a grave robber, a Nurse (huzzah, Romeo & Juliet!), mysterious soldiers, an evil Archduke, sweet but helpless parents, an even more evil and creepy Necromancer and two star-crossed friends (it’s middle school, mind) who need to find their way home. The story is one that could have come directly from the stage, with a quest, a rescue or two and an evil villian who deserves a comeuppance courtesy of the young heroes.
There are lots of things to love about this book – Angela is a strong female protagonist who saves herself more than once and who works tirelessly to save her parents from the evil Archduke. Hans is kind and sweet and a true friend who has a mysterious past of his own. I’m not going to say that the mystery of Hans’ past is hard to figure out; indeed, it’s telegraphed pretty clearly from the start, but half the fun lies in the journey to the discovery, not in the act itself.
The secondary characters are incredibly fun to read about, and you will want to run off to join the amazing Pandolini troupe as soon as you meet them (hey, there are crazier ways to learn Italian). The writing is action-packed but not so much that you feel like you are lurching from event to event; instead, the journey makes sense, and you will find yourself cheering for Hans and Angela every step of the way as they meet each challenge head on.
I was especially intrigued by the shiver-inducing villain of the Necromancer. Assisted by his minions, the Weevils (kind of like evil Lost Boys), the Necromancer is able to use his wiles as well as magic and herbs to persuade the slightly less evil Archduke Arnulf to do his bidding in order to track down the errant children. The Necromancer is truly disconcerting, although his habit of changing the ‘filling’ for his empty eye sockets with whatever was nearby caused a few giggles from me. He comes to a rather satisfying conclusion, and you finish the book feeling that he’s had the ending he deserves.
It’s also a wonderful change to see that the parents in this book love their children, and truly want to help save them. It seems to be a bit of a trope nowadays to have parents either ineffectual or absent entirely from middle grade fiction; the parents in this book are affectionate and loving with their children, and their affection is returned. Even the mildly despicable Grave Robber Knobbe is redeemed and finds affection from Hans.
This is a tremendously fun book, and one that I could see being used as both a student-red and read-aloud book; the action doesn’t flag at any point, and the theatrical references are a great touch for the adults. Don’t miss this rollicking ride of a book – you won’t be able to put it down!
Favourite quote (upon first seeing the large bears blocking their path):
“Do bears swim?” Hans whispered.
“I don’t know,” Angela said. “The only ones I’ve read about talk and keep house. I think this one’s different.”
Book trailer, via YouTube:
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/JT5WjYpXJKA” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>