Reviewed for: Awake at Midnight
This is one of the best entries in the long-running series called The Wardstone Chronicles. This book is a narrative told in Grimalkin’s voice, the story of what happens to her once she leaves The Spook and Tom Ward in Ireland to keep the head of the Devil safe in a sack. At the same time, we learn through flashback about Grimalkin’s past and how she rose to her position through ruthless determination. Grimalkin was born into evil, and through strength of character, intelligence, and her own individual sense of morality, is able to rise above the slime-crawling witch-eat-witch world to become the best of the best.
We lack the usual storyline involving Tom and his journey, his unspoken love for Alice, and the tension between Alice and the Spook, but without losing the ambience of the setting. In fact, the dark woodland atmosphere of the County returns after a short hiatus, pulling us deeper into the politics of Pendle Hill and taking us a step forward in the fight against the Dark. In this book, we return to the Witch Dell to grapple with undead witches, visit Malkin Tower, and even swing by Chippenden.
We watch as Grimalkin walks the Earth, imagining what it must feel like to invite a woman with filed teeth and a finger bone necklace into your home, knowing that she carries the head of the Devil in her bag, knowing that the host of Hell follows close on her heels, seeing the campfires light one by one, each surrounded by a company of witches, fearing that somewhere in the dark lurks a werewolf that was born of a demon, with you between it and its chosen prey. The story comes to a slow boil as the tension between Grimalkin and the wolf builds. If the witches and their allies catch Grimalkin and retrieve the head of the Fiend, he will once again walk free, and Tom and Alice will be his first targets.
Beware: more than one character we care about dies in this chapter of the Wardstone Chronicles. Grimalkin also reveals some unexpected magical skills.
In the final pages of this book, Grimalkin returns more to her true character, in such a way that we root for it like a savage, black magic Rambo. But it isn’t a blood bath. It is prose, a journal entry that celebrates the beauty of vengeance. Do we want to be placed in a position of feeling empathy for Grimalkin? I think Delaney uses her sense of honor to walk the narrow line and allow us to question for ourselves. In the end, there is no resolution to the problem of the Fiend, but we do know that Tom must return to Malkin Tower in Pendle to face his next challenge while the Spook re-builds his home.