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The Grave Robber’s Apprentice by A. Stratton

Stratton, Allan. The Grave Robber’s Apprentice. Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers Limited, 2012. Print.

The Grave Robber’s Apprentice is a dark tale of the vilest sorcerer and the most sinister Archduke who constantly orchestrate unsettling dangers that protagonists Hans and Angela must endure to save themselves and their families.

In this beautifully crafted literary tale, Stratton offers first a found child tossed into the sea in a box emblazoned with a strange crest and jewels, the child bears an eagle birthmark on his shoulder. We next meet Knobbe the Bent, a grave robber, who finds the boy and decides to take him in so “in my old age, he can tend me” (p. 6). Until that time Hans exists as a son to the grave robber, living in a cave and learning, but not liking, the trade.

What would this story be without a princess? Stratton doesn’t disappoint the reader when he introduces the headstrong Countess Angela who spends her days presenting fantastic puppet plays to her nurse and wishing for her own happy ending. But in such a tale as this where evil lurks and secrets are kept it is only a matter of time before the Archduke Arnulf’s henchmen come to claim Angela for the Archduke. Angela’s mother and father are imprisoned by Arnulf until they agree to the marriage. When the plan to feign Angela’s death with a potion from the necromancer is foiled, a lifeless Angela is left abandoned in a coffin in the family tomb.

Hans saw Angela buy the potion from the necromancer and in an attempt to placate his grave robber father, enters her tomb where he inadvertently saves a reanimated Angela. The pauper and the princess now band together (although unhappily at first) to escape their present dangers and find the help needed to save Angela's parents from the depths of the Archduke’s asylum. They embark on an action-packed adventure seeking a reclusive hermit in the mountains who they hope will help them. Together Hans and Angela befriend some quirky characters; a family of wild circus entertainers with bears and the band of the legendary Wolf King who come to their aid more than once when they team up to outwit the necromancer and the Archduke.The evil necromancer, the Archduke Arnulf, his executioners and henchmen’s despicable plans counterbalance the good of the Wolf King, the Pandolini family, and Peter the Hermit.

The short chapters are organized in five acts identifying each of the characters: The ‘Little’ Countess, The Wolf King, Peter the Hermit, The Circus of Dancing Bears, and Johannes, Prince of Waldland.

Some readers may feel that a folk tale formula offers limited novelty, but the story is packed with adventure after adventure, capture following escape, escape following capture, and plenty of secrets, which when revealed, tie this tale into a very satisfying package. Fans of adventure and fast-paced tales full of fantastic events will enjoy this engrossing story.

Highly Recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Leslie Holwerda

Leslie Holwerda is a teacher-librarian/literacy coach at Lougheed Middle School in Brampton, Ontario. She has been a teacher-librarian for ten years and loves reading, selecting and recommending books for readers. She is especially interested in encouraging reluctant readers to pick up and read books no matter the genre, topic or format. The opportunity to motivate readers with e-books and reading apps in the school library is an exciting prospect.