I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
The orphan Barclay Thorne is training to be a mushroom farmer when he has a chance encounter with a girl and her Beast in the woods. People from his town have told Barclay all his life that Beasts are dangerous, and since his own parents were killed by one, he believes them. So he is horrified when another Beast accidentally bonds with him, forcing him on a journey to a place called Sycomore to become one of the Lore Keepers. He decides to fight his destiny and return home to live the quiet life he’d dedicated himself too. But perhaps the Beasts aren’t so bad.
This is a cute first installment in a middle grade fantasy series. The characters are charming, the setting vivid, and the plot, while very predictable, is entertaining.
Barclay is, for the most part, a good protagonist, he’s just nothing really special. He’s every other hero who doesn’t want to go on an adventure, but finds that it suits him more than he thought it would. He actually started to bother me after a while, though, with his constant denial—even to himself—that he does not want this life. He just came off as tediously stubborn at times. I personally found the side characters like Viola and Runa to be way more interesting. The Beasts, Mitzi and Root, were definitely my favorites, though.
As for the settings, the woods are described well and wonderfully magical. I liked Sycomore as well, though I wish we had gotten to explore more of its facets than we did. I feel like we only scraped the surface, and though I know this is the first book to a series, I think we should have seen more of its wonder through Barclay’s eyes as he discovered it for the first time.
The storyline is 100% just the hero’s journey with some Harry Potter/How to Train Your Dragon elements thrown in. The underlying mystery surrounding Soren, Cyril, Runa, and Tadg’s father felt like it was supposed to be fascinating and the key to understanding the whole plot, but honestly I was confused by it. I think it would have helped if we knew more than half of these characters, and knew them well. As it was, this was a mystery involving off-screen side characters, and only affected our leads obliquely. Maybe I missed something.
In the end, The Accidental Apprentice, first in the Wilderlore series, wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t the most original thing I’ve ever read. It’s a perfectly serviceable fantasy with some well rendered settings and a few thrilling moments, but I overall wasn’t blown away. Still, middle schoolers who are fans of How to Train Your Dragon would probably enjoy this.
Overall rating: 7.8/10
The Accidental Apprentice will be published in March 2021.