Junior Library Guild selection


— Times of London, Book of the Week

“As rollicking as a song.”

— Booklist, starred review


A wild tale of highwaymen, hermits, dancing bears — and a boy separated from his family by the sea

When Hans was a baby, he washed ashore in a wooden box and was adopted by the conniving grave robber, Knobbe the Bent. Now fate has thrown him together with Angela, a young countess fleeing for her life from the evil Archduke Arnulf and his dreaded Necromancer. Together, they’re off on a daring quest to discover Hans’ true identity and to save Angela’s parents from the archduke.

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“A lad who is unaware of his royal heritage. A young countess, arrogant yet remarkably brave. A deadly and despicable ruler. An evil underworldly character—well, let’s make that really, really evil—who might show up in readers’ dreams. This cast of characters is not very out of the ordinary in fantasy novels. But in Stratton’s capable hands, they leap from the pages (not literally, of course, but almost) and appear fascinatingly fresh. Hans is washed up on shore as a babe in a royal-crested box. Taken in by a grave robber, he learns the trade, though he looks longingly at Angela, Countess von Schwanenberg, whose passion is puppet theater. Then, suddenly, Angela is pulled from her royal world when Archduke Arnulf comes to claim her for his latest bride. And you can guess what happens to his brides. To save herself, Angela finds the Necromancer, an eyeless, hairless, rotting wraith, who is not her best hope, as it turns out. And so the adventure begins. Hans and Angela begin their quest and along the way find hermits, dancing bears, dastardly children, treachery, and friendship. Stratton tells it all in language as rollicking as a song, with almost as many amusing moments as there are heart-stopping ones. He also slips in some important messages: the power of imagination; the redeeming quality of kindness; and no matter how dire the straits, the need to believe in happy endings.”

Booklist (starred review)

“Stratton offers up a rumbunctious new take on an old fairy-tale theme in this hugely engaging, humorous and exciting novel that is ideal for readers at upper primary level.”

Booktrust, UK

“This is an exhilarating, swash-buckling adventure that’s full of humour and heart and bursting with breakneck action, set in a fantastical world with haunted forests, avalanche sledding and circus bears.”

— Lovereading4kids, UK (featured book)

“Fresh, funny and more than a little gruesome”

The Bookbag (5 stars)

“An exciting fairytale full of daring quests and magical adventure.”


“Weaving together themes from Shakespeare, Greek mythology and traditional fairytales, the book takes us on a rollicking adventure … This self-consciously tall tale celebrates the joys of storytelling, theatre and illusion-making, and makes for a hugely entertaining read.”

— Stella Maden, Carousel Magazine, UK

“‘Including an array of enigmatic, endearing and hilarious characters (and a couple of menacing and rather unsettling ones thrown in for good measure), Stratton has created a cast worthy of both farcical comedy and terrible tragedy. Hans and Angela are instantly likeable characters that can be rooted for throughout. Borrowing heavily throughout from various Shakespeare plays (including mistaken identities, a faked death, shipwrecks, lost babies, powerful prophecies and even exits pursued by bears) what seems at first glance to be a fairly simplistic though enjoyable fairy-tale romp becomes a multi faceted story with layers of suggestive references that foreshadow events to come within the novel. A highly entertaining read and a cracking, madcap adventure.”

We Love This Book Magazine, UK

“Hallowe’en brings a feast of creepy tales, from Ruth Warburton’s gorgeously romantic Witch trilogy to Joseph Delaney’s vampiric masterpiece Slither. Allan Stratton’s The Grave Robber’s Apprentice is perfect for 8+. Hans, its orphaned hero, grows up doing all, Knobbe, the grave robber’s dirty work, living in rags while his master amasses gold teeth from corpses. But when he meets Angela, a spirited 12-year-old countess kidnapped by the evil Archduke to be his new bride, a series of alarming and hilarious events are set in motion. Angela must save her parents and her people; Hans must save his life. Fans of Philip Pullman’s Clockwork and Ken Oppel will delight in Stratton’s wit and zest, and his jokes, twists, ghosts, wolves, prophecies and gothic tropes play with a child’s sense of the repulsive without succumbing to silliness. The novel also investigates the stuff of drama and storytelling. Angela loves devising plays for marionettes, and she is furious when her Juliet-style escape from the Archduke goes wrong: “I planned a comedy … that means a happy ending … I insist on it!” she says in her tomb. Children’s books have played with post-Modernism since E. Nesbit’s time, but Stratton’s sense of theatre sees her wish come unexpectedly true.”

The Times of London (Children’s Book of the Week)

“Delightful… Readers who like their fairy tales packed with action and happy endings will want to add this to their collections.”

— The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“The Grave Robber’s Apprentice is (a) rollicking adventure tale, a fast-paced story with a couple of engaging heroes.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“A classic adventure story… This clever tale hits all the right notes … A fast-paced, entertaining historical fantasy.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“Funny, imaginative.”

Quill and Quire (starred review)

“A playfully dramatic adventure with swashbuckling kids, mountain hermits, avalanche sledding and circus bears… Clever and funny… fresh and cheeky.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A rip-roaring fantasy adventure … Clever and funny … Will take its place among other beloved children’s classics.”

— Canadian Children’s Book News

“Highly original… sublime… Sure to become a Canadian classic of the genre.”

CM Magazine (4 stars out of 4)

“Bursting with breakneck action, daring quests, and heart-stopping near misses, The Grave Robber’s Apprentice is an exhilarating adventure full of humor and heart.”

— Joseph Delaney, author of the Last Apprentice series

“A rollicking and enchanting fairy tale for the 21st century.”

— Kenneth Oppel, author of the Airborn trilogy and the Silverwing Saga

“Stratton is a master at his craft, and he’s given this story a heart of gold.”

— Arthur Slade, author of The Hunchback Assignments series

“A fun read.”

School Library Journal

UK: Faber & Faber Children’s Books, 2012

USA: HarperCollins

France: Bayard Jeunesse

Brazil: Editora Planeta

Canada: HarperCollins

China (Beijing Publishing Group)

Turkey (Marti Publishing)

Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award, Honour Book

Nominated for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award

Nominated for the Silver Birch Award

Nominated for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award

Nominated for the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award

Nominated for the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, Maryland

Best Books 2012 (Starred), Canadian Children’s Book Center

Pearson Foundation/ Writer’s Trust “Read for my School” inaugural selection, United Kingdom

Ontario Library Association’s Best Bets for Middle Grade Fiction list

Diamond Willow Award: Saskatchewan Student Choice Award

Resource Links ‘The Year’s Best 2012’ List

A Junior Library Guild selection

Times of London, Book of the Week

Austin Waldorf Children’s Choice Award

Red Cedar Nominee (BCLA, student’s choice)

ALA Booklist Review (STARRED)