I loved Django Wexler’s The Forbidden Library when it came out in 2014. The sequel, The Mad Apprentice, however, appeared to much less fanfare in the middle of last year, and I missed it. But now I’ve hunted it down, and can heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book in the series. Didn’t read The Forbidden Library? Do so at once!
A quick recap of the FL premise: when law-abiding Alice loses her father in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with mysterious Uncle Geryon, and, breaking the rules for the first time in her life, secretly sneaks into his labyrinthine library. Here she discovers that she is a Reader – someone with the gift of entering books of magic, and subjugating the extraordinary creatures she finds there. As her mind fills up with threads – links to the creatures she’s vanquished, granting her access to their attributes and powers – Alice accepts the role of Geryon’s apprentice. But she never loses sight of the mystery of her father’s death…
In book two of the series, Geryon sends Alice out to capture another apprentice; one who has done the unthinkable, and killed his Master. With a group of unknown apprentices, Alice must navigate the hostile domain of the murdered Master’s library, held together by a terrifying entity known as Torment. Torment is mad, and he wants the invaders out of his realm, or dead. But he may also have a clue about Alice’s missing father.
Fighting Torment’s creations at every turn, trying to keep herself and her fellow apprentices alive, Alice finds that the darkest, thickest thread in her mind – the link to the creature called the Dragon – has at last become responsive. The Dragon is speaking to her, warning her, guiding her. But will his influence be enough to bring her safely through the Labyrinth?
What I particularly loved about The Forbidden Library was its pervasive sense of secrecy – of every member of the cast knowing more than they’ll let on – and its nuanced moral landscape, which compels Alice, and the reader, to remain alert throughout for potential pitfalls. These elements are still very much to the fore in the dangerous world of The Mad Apprentice: the Readers’ magic is still invasive, based on “cruelty and death”, and Uncle Geryon is by no means unquestionably benevolent, though he may represent Alice’s best chance of survival. The beetling towers and terrible traps of Book 2, and the increased insight we’re allowed into other Masters’ methods of training and recruitment, make for darker shadows and grimmer depths, too. But Alice’s cool competence and quick-witted responses, and the swift pace of the story as it hustles us deeper into the maze, make The Mad Apprentice a compulsive, single-sitting read; a worthy sequel to one of 2014’s best books.