“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 folklore..an 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 book...in 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
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.)
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...
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:/www.ariberk.com. Reviewer: Lynn Evarts
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
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)