The Book of Dead Days

( 18 )

Overview

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are dead days, when spirits roam and magic shifts restlessly just beneath the surface of our lives. A lot can happen in the dead days. A magician called Valerian must save his own life within those few days, or pay the price for the pact he made with evil so many years ago. But alchemy and sorcery are no match against the demonic power pursuing him. Helping him is his servant Boy, a child with no name and no past. The quick-witted orphan girl Willow is with them as ...
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The Book of Dead Days

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Overview

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are dead days, when spirits roam and magic shifts restlessly just beneath the surface of our lives. A lot can happen in the dead days. A magician called Valerian must save his own life within those few days, or pay the price for the pact he made with evil so many years ago. But alchemy and sorcery are no match against the demonic power pursuing him. Helping him is his servant Boy, a child with no name and no past. The quick-witted orphan girl Willow is with them as they dig in death-fields at midnight, and are swept into the sprawling blackness of a subterranean city on a journey from which there is no escape.

With the help of his servant and an orphan girl, a magician named Valerian searches graveyards, churches, and underground waterways for a book he hopes will save him from a pact he has made with evil.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In PW's words, "Sedgwick's atmosphere is so well rendered, the fog on the cobblestone streets so tangibly thick, that most readers will get caught up in this exotic era and its creepy characters." Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Boy is used to things being a mystery: he does not know his name, he does not know anything about his past, and he does not know the secrets of his master's best magic trick at the theater. Boy does not ask questions, but his friend, Willow, does. When his master, Valerian, becomes haunted and distracted and then starts getting them into strange situations, such as digging up graves at night or visiting the insane Master of City Burials whose hobby is creating hideous and fantastic creatures from dissected animals, Willow wants to know all of the answers. Her questions make Boy start wondering about the answers, too. The mystery revolves around the Book of Dead Days, the book that they must search for in graves and underground canals, the book that provides all of the answers. On their harrowing, bloody journey to finding it, the characters come across more questions than answers, questions that loom unanswered at the end of the book. What matters for now, is that, by the book's close, Boy finally finds the courage to ask the important questions about his life, to move outside of the small dark space of his life and into the light. The chilling first book in a new series, Sedgwick leaves much to be answered in the book(s) to follow. After setting the stage in a dramatic style that befits his theatrical characters, Sedgwick sends readers through a gripping and terrifying race to the end. 2004, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children's Books, Ages 12 up.
—Meredith Ackroyd
VOYA
Sedgwick considers the five days between Christmas and New Year "The Dead Days" because the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over, and it is a "still, quiet time" for many. For Boy and his master, Valerian, this time is anything but quiet. The unnatural closeness and chill of the city are palpable, as readers learn of Valerian's impending fate. As he and Boy and their new assistant, Willow, race through the city in hopes of finding the book that can save Valerian, the story of why his life is in danger becomes clear. Woven into the tale are references to the scientific advancements of the time including the work of Kepler and his camera obscura. Sedgwick creates a dripping, cold, and oppressive city filled with graveyards and bad guys that quite fit with the title. No one is who they initially appear to be, and as the shadows shift and change in the graveyards, the people shift and change in front of one another. The characters start out static, but soon their personalities become quite complex, as the novel barrels toward its conclusion. The evil characters and the dank city and countryside combine to create a most satisfyingly creepy read. Those who are easily frustrated by cliffhanger endings might want to know in advance that this book's ending sets up a sequel. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 288p., and PLB Ages 12 to 18.
—Lynn Evarts
KLIATT
To quote the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, July 2005: The title alone will prove intriguing for listeners, but the story will also draw them in. Sedgwick has outlined a fairly simple tale?—?two young teens in London in the 1800s race against time to help a magician who made an evil pact 15 years earlier and is now trying to avoid paying the agreed-upon price of his life...As with any good story, it progressively builds, increasing in intensity with strange twists and turns. Some magic is revealed, but the mystery remains throughout until the surprise ending. The descriptions of London and its environs are wonderfully rich in details. Lots of fun, with no dragons or elves needed. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Random House, Wendy Lamb, 273p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Sunnie Grant
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-Set in a European city in the late 18th century, this tale of magic and treachery, the first of a two-book set, takes place during the "Dead Days" that lie between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Boy, who lacks both a real name and any knowledge of his past, is the virtual slave of a disagreeable magician, Valerian, who treats him either with indifference or cruelty. Several harrowing events, including a mysterious murder, bring Willow, a clever orphan girl, into their lives. The theme is a classic one, for Valerian has sold his soul to some ill-defined otherworldly spirit in return for earthly pleasures. Now his time of reckoning is at hand, and he must find a way to save himself before December 31 or be lost forever. The two teens accompany him on a seemingly crazed quest for a book that might hold the answer. The novel is heavily overlaid with a sense of foreboding, and the language powerfully describes the bleak weather and the squalor of the decaying city. Part of the adventure takes place in a dismal graveyard, part in a terrifying maze of subterranean canals. Unexpected twists keep the action moving, and the suspense never flags. In the end, much is explained yet much remains uncertain. Readers who enjoy fast-paced melodrama with an overlay of the supernatural will devour this tale and wait eagerly for the next installment.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In an 18th-century European city that's grand but decaying, a desperate and mysterious quest occurs during the year's "Dead Days." The period from December 27 to 31 is different from the rest of the year, though Boy doesn't know why. His master, Valerian the magician, is urgently searching for something to save his life-but what? and why? Boy and another orphan, Willow, are dragged all over by Valerian but kept in the dark about the backstory, which involves some kind of old pact foretelling doom. The City itself is a wonderfully gloomy character with twisting alleys, forgotten catacombs, and underground canals. Sedgwick draws a cryptic line between magic and science, making some magic recognizable to modern readers (electricity) but leaving other phenomena unexplained. Can Valerian really make people vanish? Much is left untold in this fascinatingly brooding tale, but Boy discovers in a final burst of warmth that Willow will be with him whatever his future holds. (author's note) (Fantasy. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385747042
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 4/11/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 663,076
  • Age range: 10 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.33 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcus Sedgwick is the award-winning author of Floodland, Witch Hill, and The Dark Horse. The author lives in Sussex, England.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

It was obvious even from a distance that they were not the only ones working in the cemetery that night.

They came to a large tomb, and decided to hide behind it. Peeping around the side of the grave, they had a clear view of an unholy scene.

Three men were hard at work in a grave. A small glass lantern propped against a gravestone illuminated the scene. The shadows it cast were long and grim. Around them lay various tools, and beside them a mound of earth spoil was piled onto a large sheet of canvas. There was a spare shovel and an iron bar with a hooked end. And there was a large canvas bag with a lump inside it—a large, disturbing lump.

“Grave-robbers!” whispered Willow in alarm.

Boy nodded.

There was no sign of Valerian.

“Come on,” said Boy.

Willow ignored him, trying to work out what was wrong with the scene.

The figures in front of them were shoveling earth back into the grave. It was obvious what was in the large sack next to them on the grass.

“Wait,” said Willow. “They’re going. Let’s wait.”

“Let’s just find Valerian and get out of here.”

“In a minute. Look, they’re going.”

It was true. The men worked fast and as soon as they had finished it took them no more than a second or two to gather their things, including the hideous bag, and leave. They swung away into the night, straight down the center path of the cemetery, as bold as could be.

“He never could keep his nose out,” said one. Boy and Willow started at the sound of his voice. It was high and wavered like that of a dying man.

Boy thought he heard another of them laugh.

Willow meanwhile was scampering over to the grave.

Horrified, Boy hesitated by the tomb, unsure if it was more dangerous to follow or to stay where he was. A glance behind at the yawning rows of death in the darkness convinced him to move.

He caught up with Willow where she crouched on the grass by the grave.

“Willow,” pleaded Boy, “come on. Please. Let’s just—”

“Look,” she said. “You would hardly notice they’d been here. A bit of loose soil, but then if it was a new one it would look like that anyway.”

She nodded at the fresh grave.

“Boy,” she said, “what was wrong with what you just saw?”

Boy frowned at her, but it was wasted in the darkness.

“Apart from the fact they just stole somebody?” he asked, sarcastically.

“Exactly!” she said. “They stole somebody. Well?”

Boy shook his head and looked around, expecting the grave-robbers to return at any moment. He noticed a sickly light in the sky. It was still a fair time until dawn, but they could at least see more easily now.

“Look,” Willow said, “I’m not an expert on the ways of resurrection men, but why would they fill the grave back up once they’d taken the . . . you know?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “All right, so it’s strange, but could we find Valerian and discuss it at home?”

“Surely they’d just run—unless they needed to cover their tracks.”

“Or cover something up,” said Boy, despite himself.

“Or some . . . No, that’s too horrible.”

They were silent as they stared at the freshly turned soil at their feet. The daylight was coming stronger now, casting weak light across the vast sprawling area of decay around them.

“Did you hear . . . !” asked Willow.

Boy nodded, clenching his mouth tight shut and trying not to scream.

From the grave just by their feet, they could hear a faint ticking sound. It grew louder, became a knocking, regular, strong. Then stopped.

Boy and Willow clutched each other. The noise started again.

Then they understood, and both fell scratching and scrabbling madly at the loose pile of cold earth in front of them. Their hands were still numb and sore from their crawl across the cemetery.

They dug with clawlike hands until they were paws of mud, scraping up fist after fist of grave-earth, until finally, gasping and straining, they reached the lid of the box.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

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Foreword

1. Boy and Willow are accused of murder. Why does Valerian save both of them? Is it only because he wants more information that they might have, or is there another, deeper reason?

2. In the beginning, Willow and Boy are very different from one another: Willow is strong-willed and brave, while Boy often cowers. How do they grow as
characters throughout the book? How do they change and influence one another?

3. Boy is told many different stories in the book about his own identity: Valerian tries to convince him that he is just a vessel to be used and Kepler tells him that he is Valerian’s son. At the end of the novel, Boy’s identity is still a mystery. Where do you think Boy came from?

4. The narrator touches on Boy’s life before Valerian found him throughout the novel. “The thought of being alone in the City at night worried him. It brought back memories of things he had half forgotten, of all the years he had lived alone on the streets.” (p. 81) Why is he so dependent on Valerian when it is obvious that he can survive on his own? Does Valerian hold some sort of power over him, or is there some deeper emotion involved?

5. What is The Book of Dead Days that is referred to in the title?

6. The novel explores many things that were considered magic at that time. How much of the book can be interpreted as magic and how much has a scientific explanation?

7. Valerian treats Boy and Willow in very different ways. Why do you think this is? Why does Boy become jealous of Willow?

8. How does Valerian manage to trick The Master into thinking that the animals that he is trying to create are truly alive?

9.When does Boy lose faith in Valerian? At what point does he stop seeing him as a powerful magician? Does he ever completely abandon him?

10. At one point, Valerian “put a hand out to Boy’s cheek for a moment, then seemed to remember himself and instantly pulled it back. It happened so fast that Boy wondered if he’d imagined it.” (p. 199) How would you explain Valerian's fleeting affection for Boy?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Boy and Willow are accused of murder. Why does Valerian save both of them? Is it only because he wants more information that they might have, or is there another, deeper reason?

2. In the beginning, Willow and Boy are very different from one another: Willow is strong-willed and brave, while Boy often cowers. How do they grow as characters throughout the book? How do they change and influence one another?

3. Boy is told many different stories in the book about his own identity: Valerian tries to convince him that he is just a vessel to be used and Kepler tells him that he is Valerian’s son. At the end of the novel, Boy’s identity is still a mystery. Where do you think Boy came from?

4. The narrator touches on Boy’s life before Valerian found him throughout the novel. “The thought of being alone in the City at night worried him. It brought back memories of things he had half forgotten, of all the years he had lived alone on the streets.” (p. 81) Why is he so dependent on Valerian when it is obvious that he can survive on his own? Does Valerian hold some sort of power over him, or is there some deeper emotion involved?

5. What is The Book of Dead Days that is referred to in the title?

6. The novel explores many things that were considered magic at that time. How much of the book can be interpreted as magic and how much has a scientific explanation?

7. Valerian treats Boy and Willow in very different ways. Why do you think this is? Why does Boy become jealous of Willow?

8. How does Valerian manage to trick The Master into thinking that the animals that he is trying to create are truly alive?

9. When does Boy lose faith in Valerian? At what point does he stop seeing him as a powerful magician? Does he ever completely abandon him?

10. At one point, Valerian “put a hand out to Boy’s cheek for a moment, then seemed to remember himself and instantly pulled it back. It happened so fast that Boy wondered if he’d imagined it.” (p. 199) How would you explain Valerian's fleeting affection for Boy?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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(11)

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 3, 2012

    Not what I expected

    This was a great book and i read it in a day. The action kept the pages turning. I loved it until the ending. The ending was not good to me and I expected better, but this was still a very good book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2009

    One of the Best Books I have ever Read!

    This book is amazing! It will take you on a thrilling journey. It will make you connect with all the characters at a level, because there is such a variety. I would recommend this book to anyone that loves a mystery, and suspense! Over all A GREAT BOOK!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2008

    SUPER-UBER-DUPER-AWESOME!!!!!

    It was super awesome! In the begining I didn't have a clue on wha was going on, but then from pretty much the begining to the end I had my eyes glued to the book. My mom thought I was sick or something because it's rare to see me so into to a book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2008

    Its a great novel.

    This story is very hard to get into in the beginning. I had to force myself to continue reading but when I continued reading it. I couldn't stop! Its really good, packed with the full frontal truth about betrayel and fate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2007

    Greatest Epic Novel I've ever Read!

    I was shopping at the book fair at my school and this book caught my eye. I looked at it and decided to buy it, along with the first volume of the manga, +Anima. As I read it, I couldn't stop. The whole mystery of why the magician, Valerian, was going to die really intrigued me to keep turning the pages. After reading it, I was left shocked at how the story ended. Recently for my Birthday, my brother bought the sequel, The Dark Fligght Down, which I can't wait to start. I definetly reccomend this book to someone who likes mystery, horror, and suspense. And this book sandwiches all that into one great tale of a boy and girl.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2007

    AWESOME

    I had to get a book from the library at school and when i found this one the name of the book intrigued, i mean the Book Of Dead Days thats sure to grab anyones attention so i read the back of the book and i new i had to check it out. After i read the first chapter that night i coudnt put it down and and 2 hours later it was finished. I reecommend this book to anyone who wants mysteryand a book that will keep them hooked until its over. I cant wan to read the sequil

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2007

    One of the greatest mysterious books I've ever read!

    This is the only book I've ever read twice in a row because it is so unbelievably good! This book is so mysterious, I was hooked from the first sentence! I definitely recommend this book for anyone who really wants to be scared in the dark- and I have yet to read the sequel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2006

    Great opening potential is squandered by uneven pacing.

    What actually got me reading this book was the author's signature, displayed so prominently on the book's cover. But after turning the first few pages, Marcus Sedgwick's fluid prose compelled me to stick around. The Dead Days, according to Egyptian and Aztec legend, are five days of ill omen. Sedgwick has chosen to stick them between Christmas and New Year's Eve for his purposes. And what a purpose it is. The bleak wintry setting provides a backdrop for a classically gothic set of characters--an abused apprentice, Boy his troubled but gifted master, Valerian the brilliant but enigmatic scientist Kepler (Is he or is he not the astronomer Johanes Kepler? This is only one of the novel's many unanswered questions...) and Willow, a girl who feels drawn to Boy for reasons she herself cannot explain. Boy has no past, and, as explained later on--too much so for my liking--he simply fell from the sky and into Valerian's life. He is a gentle person, and I felt empathy for him, but he was still depressingly one-note for most of the novel. Only at the end did he show the barest hint of complexity, but soon even that was shot to the wind--more on that later. The character interactions are plausible enough as the story meanders its way to the conclusion, but in light of the revelations at the end, not all makes sense. And the breakneck pace of the ending itself is a shock to the system after slogging through a lengthy and overall boring midsection. The plot overall is simplistic, and far too many character motivations are revealed only in the final chapters. The ending, though containing an ironic twist, is anti-climactic. And though the settings are described with delightfully bleak gothic imagery in the beginning and middle, it is replaced in the end by the sudden need to advance the plot--which is a shame, because his descriptions are so vivid and so alive that the mist on the streets grips you, and the rotting stench of trash in the alleys is nearly enough to make you retch. In the end, the book works. It just doesn't work as well as it should. From subplots barely mentioned and never again dealt with((the Phantom from the first fifty or so pages is never heard from again after a shocking first appearance)) to the uneven pacing to the only half-developed characters, this book disappoints. There is, it should be noted, a sequel to this book, called The Dark Flight Down. It would do well to keep up with the gothic imagery and descriptive prose, and do without the rushed third act.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2006

    The book of dead days

    This book is insanely awesome it will have you at the edge of your seat!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2006

    i love this book!!!!

    i thought this book was so awsome! it was never dull!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2005

    Excellent

    this book was very mysterious and suspenseful. i really loved this book and i cant wait for the next one to come out. im a big fan of fantasy and this is one you definitly want to read. i love the characters and the storyline.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2004

    Awesome, but there's something you should know!

    This is an excellent story. I am a lover of the magic and mystery type books and this was very satisfying, but before starting, you should know that this is only book one in a trilogy!! I bought this book in England where book two is now available, but I had no idea that this one wasn't even coming out till now!! It is an awesome book, but BEWARE!! It will leave you craving much, much MORE!

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    Posted January 19, 2010

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    Posted March 28, 2009

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    Posted June 21, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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