The Book of Dead Days
The Book of Dead Days

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Annotation: 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.
Catalog Number: #4069
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Random House
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition Date: 2004
Pages: viii, 273 pages
Availability: Special Order Only - Contact Customer Service at +1 800 637-6581 or +1 217 243-5451
ISBN: Publisher: 0-385-74704-7 Perma-Bound: 0-605-06875-5
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-385-74704-2 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-06875-9
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2004006444
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
In the last five days of a late-medieval year, magician Valerian strives to elude the consequences of a Faustian bargain. "Boy," his stage assistant, can't divine what drives his harsh master. Events move swiftly; the brooding atmosphere is palpable. Sedgwick's dark thriller reaches a satisfactory denouement, but his last words are "End of Book One," leaving much unresolved for a sequel.
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)
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.
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Set during the dead days between Christmas and New Year's in a crumbling, old, European-like city, this story is as dark as a winter's night, illuminated with flashes of shooting-star brilliance. Once an urchin, Boy now belongs to Valerian, a magician. Although the master treats the child poorly, Boy follows his orders dutifully; Valerian is all he has got. So when Valerian reveals that he has only a few days to live (a pact with the devil is coming due), Boy winds his way through the fetid stink of the city, following Valerian's mysterious and dangerous instructions in a race to save his master's life. Sedgwick's highly visual writing makes for a true movie of the mind. It is reminiscent of Philip Pullman's work, with each detail adding to the fullness of Sedgwick's alternative world. Also like Pullman, Sedgwick draws characters so magnetic that readers will find it hard to look away. The plot is convoluted in places, information is dispensed a bit too slowly, and a few key points want explanation (about one, a character says, We may never know). Perhaps the loose ends will be tied up in the sequel, which is planned for 2005 (hopefully a note about it will be on the final dust jacket). This is a haunting novel, and the possibility of more is definitely enticing.
Word Count: 58,563
Reading Level: 4.7
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.7 / points: 9.0 / quiz: 82261 / grade: Middle Grades+
Reading Counts!: reading level:6.4 / points:15.0 / quiz:Q36232
Lexile: 730L
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.

Excerpted from The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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.

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

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