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Book Review – The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

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 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 as they are swept into the sprawling blackness of a subterranean city on a journey from which there is no escape.

About the Author
Marcus Sedgwick used to work in children’s publishing and before that he was a bookseller. He now happily writes full-time. His books have been shortlisted for many awards, including The GUARDIAN CHILDREN’S FICTION AWARD, the BLUE PETER BOOK AWARD, the CARNEGIE MEDAL and the EDGAR ALLAN POE AWARD.

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The Book of Dead Days is the second book by the YA author Marcus Sedgwick that I’ve read. I liked the spooky My Swordhand is Singing so I decided to check out Sedgwick’s other books. The Book of Dead Days is the first of a two-book series that follows the harrowing misadventures of a young teen (simply called Boy) who has no memory of his past or his real name. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed at all by The Book of Dead Days (given my heightened expectations), and I’m already looking forward to reading the sequel The Dark Flight Down!

The events covered in The Book of Dead Days take place in just over five days in a freezing December (the 27th to 31st)  – the so-called ‘dead days’ of the year when people are recovering from Christmas and gearing up for the New Year celebrations. But Boy and his cruel master (the famous magician Valerian) are not in a celebratory mood. An increasingly desperate Valerian is searching for a mysterious book (the titular Book of Dead Days) that supposedly holds information that may save Valerian‘s soul – and he drags Boy and Boy‘s friend Willow along in a frantic race against the clock, following clues left behind by Valerian‘s missing friend Kepler. There are twists and turns in this darkly suspenseful tale, and Sedgwick deftly kept a quick pace while while keeping the surprises coming.

I have to say that I loved the Dickensian / gothic / steampunk-ish atmosphere in the book. The city Boy lives in is the once-majestic capital of a great (but now dead) empire, and Sedgwick does a great job of painting a detailed picture of the crumbling, decaying, stinking city with a maze of alleys and canals that the characters have to traverse in their dangerous search. I also loved the steampunk-ish elements – technological inventions dealing with optics and electricity that appear to be magical given the time-setting (sometime in the late 1800s).

As for the characters, the complex master-slave/parent-child/love-hate relationship between Boy and his master Valerian was captured well, adding to the poignancy of the final chapter where some truths (or maybe untruths?) are revealed to Boy. I did wonder at the inclusion of the character Willow – she felt redundant to me and I really didn’t see the point of adding her character to the story (other than as a future romantic foil for Boy).

Like I’ve said, there’s a sequel for this book that’s already out (and I guess that accounts for the rather abrupt ending of the story plus the still hanging threads and unanswered questions, especially about Boy‘s past). Am off to read The Dark Flight Down to find out what happens next!

The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Paperback edition, and Audible Audio Edition.

The eBook is also available at the Apple iBookstore.


For a second opinion – here’s some reviews of The Book of Dead Days by other bloggers:

  • Teen Book Review Blog – “excels at simple stories of ordinary people that still manage to fill you with dread”
  • Book Series Tracker – “just thought it was ok – even upon re-read”
  • Bart’s Bookshelf – “thoroughly enjoyable, original and creative story, highly recommended”

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Book Review – My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

December 11, 2010 1 comment

Book Description:

In a bitter winter, Tomas and his son, Peter, settle in a small village as woodcutters. Tomas digs a channel of fast-flowing waters around their hut so that they have their own little island kingdom. Peter doesn’t understand why his father has done this, or why his father carries a long, battered box, whose mysterious contents he is forbidden to know.

But Tomas is a man with a past—a past that is tracking him with deadly intent. As surely as the snow falls softly in the forest of a hundred thousand silver birch trees, father and son must face a soulless enemy and a terrifying destiny.

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My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick is a wonderfully dark & chilling addition to vampire-lore fiction. And thank goodness, there’s nary a whiff of emo-Vampires or teen love triangles with other supernatural beings. Or even the mention of the word ‘vampire’. Instead, Marcus Sedgwick brings us back to the earliest vampire legends and the early reports of vampirism in Europe.

The setting for the novel is the dead of winter at an Eastern European village (most likely in Transylvania as mentioned in the author notes) during the early seventeenth century. Peter (and his father Tomas) are woodcutters who have recently taken a break from their nomadic life to settle near the village of Chust. Peter is a hardworking and likeable young teenager who unfortunately doesn’t have a very happy life. He has a strained relationship with his father, which had been marred by Tomas’ excessive drinking, violence, and secret past, including a mysterious wooden box (the contents of which is kept forbidden from Peter). The young man is also treated as an outsider and distrusted by the villagers in Chust.

When the village is beset by the mysterious deaths of men and livestock, together with terrifying instances of reanimations of the dead, Peter teams up with a young visiting Gypsy girl (Sofia) and discovers the secrets his father has kept from him, including an ancient evil that has resurfaced to threaten all their lives.

I really liked Marcus Sedgwick’s take on the vampire mythology. The pace of the book does start a bit slowly, but I felt that the groundwork added to the sinister and disturbing atmosphere. I found it an easy read, with me devouring the (admittedly short) book in an afternoon. The author has a way of writing that’s very minimalistic and stark, and yet descriptive enough that I could clearly visualize the setting and the villagers. I also appreciated the author’s use of legends and superstitions in the story (the haunting Miorita song, the pretty dreadful idea of a Wedding of the Dead, the gypsy practices, and the Shadow Queen/Winter King lore) that I thought added an authentic ‘flavoring’ to the period covered in the novel.

Special mention goes to the dysfunctional father-son relationship covered in the book – I found it heartbreaking that Peter continued to love his father inspite of all Tomas’ faults, neglect and abuse, so I really took to heart that Tomas was given the opportunity to have some redemption and be a hero in his son’s eyes when the story reached its climax.

I highly recommend this book to all lovers of historical fiction and the supernatural – it’s geared to the young reader crowd, but it’s still scary and interesting enough (not to mention extremely well-written) to satisfy those in the older age groups.

My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick is available on Amazon as a Kindle Edition ($5.59), Hardcover ($15.99), or Mass Market Paperback ($6.99).

Also available on B&N Nook, Sony eBookstore, Kobo Books.

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