Much like Librarian before it (if you haven’t read my review, click here to read it), Brian Fence’s Apprentice tells the story of librarian Lenna Faircloth, and her travails with the psychic artefact—or ‘Godjewel’—in her possession. Picking up shortly after the end of Librarian, Lenna is living amongst the Freewomen of Laur, who she met in the previous book. Opening with a letter Lenna has written to her father, and her concerns about his lack of response, the novel opens with a mystery that serves as an enticing throughline.
As I read Apprentice, I was struck by a book that is more self-assured than its predecessor, willing to pick up its plot and run with it. Assuming readers have read Librarian before it, the story does away with introducing readers to its protagonist and starts running with it.
At 374 pages in paperback (or 332 in hardcover, an estimated 374 Kindle swipes, or, for those of you preferring to listen to an audiobook, thirteen hours and fifteen minutes), Apprentice is noticeably shorter than its predecessor. This makes the world of difference to the book: without sacrificing any story or plot (to the contrary, there is more happening in Apprentice than Librarian), Fence has been more economical with his use of words, resulting in a book that isn’t overwritten like its predecessor. The result is a book that still feels similar in its writing style, but also feels more focused on moving its story forward.
As the story continues, Apprentice expands upon the world in some interesting ways, increasing the canvas that these stories are created upon. The plot moves at a steady pace: this still isn’t a fast-paced book, but nor does it get lost; instead, the pacing feels appropriate for the story. As it moves along, we are introduced to more characters and an increasing number of plot elements, as well as political intrigue, which builds to a satisfying conclusion (though, being the middle part of a trilogy, there is obviously more to come).
As I noted above, Apprentice does not feel like it has been overwritten, which was a problem I had with Librarian. The prose throughout has been skillfully written by the author, and throughout this second outing, there are some great turns of phrase. Again, the book is predominantly told from Lenna’s perspective, however through an increased amount of dialogue, Fence provides a more nuanced examination of the characters.
The character work has been handled well throughout Apprentice. We are reintroduced to a number of characters we met in the first book, and by and large, these characters are more nuanced than in their first outing. Some of this credit has to go to the virtue of Apprentice being the second entry in the trilogy and expanding these characters further, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that this book makes an added effort to have these shine. The book also introduces its readers to a variety of new characters, and these, too, shine brightly throughout the book. The characters throughout Apprentice are a joy to read… except for the antagonists, that is, however, all are written exceedingly well.
As Fence has expanded the world, he has also built upon the elements from the first novel. The fantasy elements have been expanded in fun ways, and fans of the genre will appreciate the way this world has been built. Yes, this is a story set in a magical world full of mages, but it feels entirely natural for the world, without requiring the reader to suspend their disbelief. The steampunk aspects are stronger than the original novel too, however, they still play a background part, so I wouldn’t suggest it for readers looking primarily for a “steampunk” story.
The feminist themes from Librarian come through just as strongly in Apprentice as Lenna comes up against a world that underestimates her because of her gender. The clash of ideals between the Freewomen and the Brotherhood highlights how backwards our society is with its historical—and in too many cases, current—misogynistic views. I am also happy to report that at no point did I feel the book sold these ideals short with off the cuff remarks.
Apprentice is a rare sequel that not only takes everything that worked with its predecessor, it doubles down on those aspects, while successfully remedying everything that held its predecessor back from greatness. While this is the second chapter in the Lenna’s Arc trilogy, the first book is required reading, so I wouldn’t suggest reading it in a vacuum. Where Librarian is ‘good,’ Apprentice is ‘great,’ and I look forward to seeing how the author closes out the trilogy.
Lenna chortled with sick glee at the image of a disgraced young Sebastien being smacked on the bottom; her cackling rattled the teacups in their saucers, and she couldn’t stop giggling until Sebastien, growing purple in the face, threatened to blast her back to the hilltop with another gust of wind.Apprentice, Chapter Eight
Apprentice was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Apprentice is available in paperback and hardcover from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon, and Kindle and audiobook, exclusive to Amazon/Audible.
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