Praise for The Book of Dead Days:
“Beautifully paced and sometimes blood-soaked. . . . A very tangible sense of evil.”—The Guardian
“Subtle menace and power.”—The Independent
“Packed with drama, mystery, and intrigue.”—The Bookseller
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Book of Dead Days
By Marcus Sedgwick
Random HouseCopyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Sedgwick
All right reserved.
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.
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.
Excerpted from The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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?