Death Watch (Undertaken Trilogy Series #1) [NOOK Book]


They say the dead should rest in peace. Not all the dead agree. This start to The Undertaken trilogy is a ?thought-provoking gothic fantasy? and a ?genuinely eerie tale? (Publishers Weekly).

When Silas Umber?s father, Amos, doesn?t come home from work one night, Silas discovers that his father was no mere mortician, but an Undertaker who worked to bring The Peace to lost and wandering souls. With Amos gone, Silas and his mother move back to ...
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Death Watch (Undertaken Trilogy Series #1)

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They say the dead should rest in peace. Not all the dead agree. This start to The Undertaken trilogy is a “thought-provoking gothic fantasy” and a “genuinely eerie tale” (Publishers Weekly).

When Silas Umber’s father, Amos, doesn’t come home from work one night, Silas discovers that his father was no mere mortician, but an Undertaker who worked to bring The Peace to lost and wandering souls. With Amos gone, Silas and his mother move back to Lichport, the crumbling seaside town where he was born, and Silas seizes the opportunity to investigate his father’s disappearance.
     When his search leads him to his father’s old office, he comes across a powerful artifact: the Death Watch, a tool that allows the owner to see the dead. Death Watch in hand, Silas begins to unearth Lichport’s secret history—and discovers that he has taken on his father’s mantle as Lichport’s Undertaker. Now, Silas must embark on a dangerous path into the Shadowlands to embrace his destiny and discover the truth about his father—even if it kills him.
     Critically acclaimed folklorist Ari Berk explores the worlds of the living and the dead, and the relationships between parents and children in an novel steeped in lore, mystery, and magic.
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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Silas's father is an Undertaker. When he suddenly disappears, Silas's uncles take him and his alcoholic mother back to the family home in Lichport, where the teen begins to learn of his peculiar heritage. For men of the Umber family, the dead and the dead-but-not-quite-gone hover closely, and it is their responsibility to help the lost and wandering spirits find rest. Lichport is isolated from the rest of the world in more ways than one. Virtually cut off from the mainland, it is visited by very few people, and those that leave tend to come back if not in life, then in death. Consequently, the population consists more of the dead than the living. Berk's writing style and language are reminiscent of the classic gothic works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson. The plot and pacing have a haunting, dreamlike quality—the type of dream that morphs into nightmares that jolt sleepers awake with a pounding heart and shaking hands. Readers who enjoyed Melissa Marr's Graveminder (William Morrow, 2011) should find this book intriguing.—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK
Publishers Weekly
In this thought-provoking gothic fantasy, Berk makes the jump from interactive/novelty books (William Shakespeare: His Life and Times; The Secret History of Mermaids) to full-fledged novels. What results is a leisurely, digressive, yet genuinely eerie tale, first in the Undertaken trilogy. A year after his mortician father vanishes, 17-year-old Silas Umber and his mother go to stay with his father’s brother, moving into the family mansion in nearby Lichport, a town where ghosts lurk in every corner and the restless dead roam. Quickly estranged from his alcoholic mother and his increasingly unsettling uncle, Silas spends his time exploring Lichport and seeking his father’s fate, even taking up the family role of Undertaker to Lichport’s many spirits, acting as “part therapist, part lawyer, part travel agent and... part deportation officer.” As he grows into the role, he learns many of Lichport’s secrets, including his family’s darkest moments. Berk’s setting is atmospheric and creepy, fleshed out with a wealth of funereal traditions and folklore. The narrative occasionally drags, and some of the characters are broadly drawn, but it remains an intriguing opener. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“Ari Berk writes deftly about loss and love, mining a rich vein of ghostly folklore with vivid prose, style and wit. A marvelous tapestry of a book.”—Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author

“This truly gothic novel is imbued with hauntingly beautiful prose and vividly drawn characters set in a town just as intriguing as its inhabitants. Death Watch will linger with you long after you lay it to rest.”–Tony DiTerlizzi, New York Times bestselling author of The Search for WondLa

"Berk’s writing style and language are reminiscent of the classic gothic works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson. The plot and pacing have a haunting, dreamlike quality–the type of dream that morphs into nightmares that jolt sleepers awake with a pounding heart and shaking hands. Readers who enjoyed Melissa Marr’s Graveminder should find this book intriguing."—School Library Journal

" [A] thought-provoking gothic fantasy...a leisurely, digressive, yet genuinely eerie tale...Berk’s setting is atmospheric and creepy, fleshed out with a wealth of funereal traditions and intriguing opener."—Publishers Weekly

"Berk’s novel is a labor of love, focusing on his interest in folklore, ghost lore, and the customs surrounding the dead...a rich and complex the hands of the right reader, it will be savored."—VOYA

"Those who like complexity in their scary tales will find their patience rewarded by the satisfying conclusion."—BCCB

"Ari Berk's compelling prose draws aside death's veil revealing a macabre, visceral, and utterly believable folkloric world. Eerie and poignant, Death Watch is at once chilling and full of heart."

— Brom, artist/author of the Chesley award-winning novel The Plucker.

"Every now and then a book comes along that breaks the mold of everything that has gone before. Death Watch is such a book. At once a profound and moving meditation on death, and an extraordinary edge-of-the-seat adventure, it is one of the most original and powerful novels I have read in my lifetime." — John Matthews, New York Times bestselling author of Pirates and Arthur of Albion

little squeed blog
A+ ~ A book for those who love stories with rich, deep histories, with detailed descriptions that make you feel like you were there. Not for readers looking for a gushy love story, or driveling characters that need a significant other to make up their minds for them. Death Watch is for lovers of literature, those readers who revel in the velvety texture of words as they roll off the tongue. It is for those who read aloud at night to empty rooms, just to hear each line sing. This will go on my shelf of favorites...
VOYA - Lynn Evarts
A year after the disappearance of Silas's beloved father, he and his mother move to his uncle's house in the mysterious city of Lichport. Once there, Silas discovers very strange things going on in the house. In his explorations of the town, he meets people who remember his father fondly, and he discovers the house where his father worked before his disappearance. Silas only knew that his father was an undertaker, but it is not until he meets Mrs. Bowe, the keeper of his father's Lichport house, and finds an interesting skull-shaped watch in the pocket of his father's jacket, that he begins to understand what his father did for the townspeople. As Silas learns about the importance of his father's position, he starts to take on the various jobs, guided by an old journal and the Death Watch. As his uncle's behavior becomes more and more erratic and the ghostly Mist Ship moves closer and closer to port, the entire town looks to Silas to save them. Berk's novel is a labor of love, focusing on his interest in folklore, ghost lore, and the customs surrounding the dead. Ghosts reluctant to leave their earthbound bodies; the spinning, weaving, and cutting of the Fates; and many other tales come together to create the intricate backstory of the fictional town of Lichport. The Death Watch itself is a fascinating artifact. While the main plot point is Silas's search for his father, the customs and rituals surrounding death often take center stage, creating a rich and complex book. Because of the intricacy and length, this book will have limited appeal, but in the hands of the right reader, it will be savored. Readers should be encouraged to check out the photographs of Lichport on Berk's website, http:/ Reviewer: Lynn Evarts
Kirkus Reviews
Folklorist Berk enters the world of teen lit with mixed results. In a town where ancient customs hold sway and the dead often linger, a young man named Silas searches for his father and learns that he may be destined to help move souls on. Berk knows a great deal about death and its attendant rituals and stories, but he doesn't have the same facility with dialogue or characterization. Occasional incandescent moments--Silas' journey to the dead's gathering places, his efforts to reunite the souls of lost children with those of bereft mothers--fail to shine when crammed into a tale torn in too many directions. Plot necessities drive behavior: Mrs. Bowe, who plays the archetypal role of wise guide to Silas as he learns how to be an undertaker, is often and inexplicably reticent; Silas suddenly grows a backbone when needed but is otherwise intensely passive. Tighter editing could have streamlined the thematic clutter (search for a father, murder mystery, examination of family and responsibility, coming into power and, odd in a YA title, the pain of losing a child) and the tendency toward repetitive writing, but not the almost didactic underlying message (helpfully reiterated in the backmatter) about the importance of remembering the past and the dead. Original ideas bog down in prosy, purpose-driven writing. (reading group guide, author Q&A) (Fantasy. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442436039
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 11/15/2011
  • Series: Undertaken Trilogy Series , #1
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 684,554
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Ari Berk is the author of the Undertaken trilogy and Nightsong, illustrated by Loren Long. He works in a library filled to the ceiling with thousands of arcane books and more than a few wondrous artifacts. When not writing, he moonlights as professor of mythology and folklore at Central Michigan University. He lives in Michigan with his wife and son. Visit him at
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Read an Excerpt


It was after eleven, so he’d have been home already. Arguing with his wife. Lying to his son about work and the hours of his work and the kind of work he said he did back in Lichport.

Amos Umber’s lies had become habitual. He would invent something about the corpse to tell his son. That’s what Silas always wanted to know. The grisly details. What happened to them? How did they die? What did it take to put all the pieces back in place? How did he treat the flesh so the family wouldn’t be reminded there was anything other than sleep waiting for them at the end of days?

It was their little ritual. Father and son. Lie stitched to lie. An elaborate collection of details and variations to make the stories he told sound real, momentarily fascinating, but also common and forgettable. Corpses and coffins, chemical order forms, and a dark pin-striped suit. So many details it almost held together if no one pulled at too many threads. No matter that his son assumed that “Undertaker” meant “mortician.” No matter that in the Umber family an Undertaker was something else entirely.

Amos hated lying to his son, but he had made a promise to his wife. He’d sworn not to say anything about the Undertaken, or Wanderers, or the Restless. He’d sworn not to talk to Silas about his side of the family or the family business in Lichport, where they all once lived together briefly when Silas was a baby.

Most of what he told his son was a lie, but not all of it. No matter how many minute details he fabricated, he always tried to say something about the Peace. At the end of each evening’s tale, that’s what he told his son he tried to do in his work: bring peace. And at least that part, that most essential act, was true.

On nights like this one, he longed to actually live inside his story-life, just doing the easy stuff: Bag ’em. Bury ’em. Arrange the flowers, line up the chairs for the visitation, hold the hands of the bereaved. But these were not part of his calling. His work began after the funeral. Or when there hadn’t been a funeral because the body was lost and rumors were making folk restless. Or because something so awful happened that folk couldn’t bring themselves to speak about it at all. As sure as a curse, secrets and silence brought them back and kept them wandering. If they couldn’t find the Peace … that’s when his dark and difficult work began.

He should have gone home.

But instead of driving his car on the road over the marsh, back to Saltsbridge and the other house in the suburbs, he was walking from his office down Main Street toward the water, deeper into the old neighborhoods, and singing softly to himself as familiar houses rose up against the night sky as if to greet him. He’d never once felt at home in Saltsbridge. Lichport would always be home, and he knew it.

The Morton house stood on a street of old leaning mansions above the Narrows, and it hadn’t been on his list of trouble spots. Sure, things came up unexpectedly, but not often—a quiet one might turn wakeful—but nowadays this was a rare event. That neighborhood had been peace-bound for a long time, even though the houses and the families around there were old and had troublesome pasts. Lots of the founding families had left Lichport, or died out, like the one last ancient aunt who lived with a hundred cats until someone noticed she wasn’t picking up her mail anymore.

Only the families with more dignity than money still lived near the waterfront, and the Mortons were one of those, lingering quietly among their losses, generation after generation, as the whole pile continued to fall down around them. One of the remaining Morton children had written to Amos, hastily, before abandoning the house “temporarily.” And now, very suddenly, there was talk of awful visitations and unsettled business, and no one wanted to walk past the house at night, and Lonely Folk were seen wandering at noon, even in the Narrows. Three people had heard the Sorrowsman on Dogge Alley. Two had seen him.

Rumors were running again in the streets of Lichport.

Even before he got to the house, even without seeing it, he guessed it was a box job causing the trouble, because those were the ones that came back without warning. That’s why no one used boxes or tins anymore, even though it used to be common practice, because they almost always broke open or corroded, and when it came back it was always worse than before. The last box he’d read about in the Undertaker’s ledger was used maybe two hundred years ago. Put it in the box, seal the box, bury the box somewhere deep. Under water. Under earth. Under stone. Many of the older sources suggested sinking such containers to the bottom of the Dead Sea, though this always seemed to Amos a little impractical.

But those boxes never stayed shut, and once the seal cracked it would start its long journey home one stride at a time, making a little progress every year, getting angrier and angrier along the way. And when it finally got home it would all start again, and that was a bad time for everyone. Amos had made quite a collection of boxes, keeping them away from people who might open one up out of curiosity, and occasionally, he’d try to set one right if he thought it could be done without causing any trouble.

All of the houses on this street roosted high above the sidewalk and peered down over the edge of land and out to the sea. Each was approached by long stairs that rose from below, ascending to carved front doors set deep within elaborate but crumbling porches and porticoes. As he looked up at the Morton place, he could see he was expected. Curtains, usually closed, were drawn away from the windows, and candlelight played out onto the casements.

When he arrived at the top of the stairs, he knocked once, firmly, on the faded door, its red paint peeling from the carved surface, and after several moments, opened it. No one greeted him. Perhaps the family had left the house for the night. This was often the case, and he never minded, because it was so much easier to be alone when he was at work. He looked back briefly over his shoulder before he entered the house to see the water out beyond the Narrows, where the moon cast a long warm shadow over the summer sea.

Somewhere deep inside the house a clock began to chime. Amos turned his head back toward the open door and crossed over the threshold. As he closed the door behind him, the last chime struck.

The rest was silence.

Outside, beyond the door, the moon had fled.

Shadowland was waiting.

© 2011 Ari Berk

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Customer Reviews

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( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 15, 2011

    My students like it

    Love the book, but I would like to use this space to report on what my college students think of it. Death Watch is required reading in my Writing in the Humanities and Children¿s Literature courses. Initial reactions were of the ¿500 pages! Are you kidding?¿ variety. The book arrived in our college bookstore yesterday, and I am exceedingly pleased to say that many of the most vocal skeptics are now quite enthusiastic. From today¿s class: ¿I can¿t wait to read the next chapter¿; ¿I¿m staying up late tonight to read this¿; and ¿They should make a movie of this.¿ If you want a novel that provides more than just a bubblegum chew, a novel that encourages you to linger in a carefully, lovingly, artistically realized world of engaging characters and vivid settings, Death Watch is for you. The language is rich (¿almost musical,¿ one student noted), and the pace is perfectly modulated to allow a reader to savor the words without stalling the narrative. In just one day of reading, the book has begun to win over 5 classrooms of college freshmen and sophomores, a fact that kinda speaks for itself.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2013

    Death Watch

    Actually, it wasn't bad. I enjoyed it; I simply wish there'd been a bit more action. It was a very passive narrative all together and it made for some yawns.

    I hope the second one is better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2013


    Wonderful book, love the detail he took to describe all the tiny details of the book. Also loved how he built up the sequal along with keeping with the suspense of the main story. Cant wait for the sequal

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012


    I am only on chapter twenty and thia book has me. It has the best description which is a key thing for me. Picking oit the right book takes time it is the medicine for my soul. This was deffinatly the right book for me.

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    Posted December 25, 2011

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