Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review | The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

Night time, dark, quiet and filled with mystery, is a great time to read about digging around in graveyards. But that depends entirely on what you like reading and how much you adore books with unfinished endings.

This one features Valerian, a stage magician at the Grand Theatre, who must find a book, The Book of Dead Days, before his Faustian pact with a demonic force is up. And he must do this before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, the last of the Dead Days which are said to be the days between Christmas and New Years.

He needs the name of a grave where it might be buried, but has no leads except for a music box procured from a thug called Green. But he isn’t about to go tomb hunting by himself. He has Boy, an ill treated assistant who “fell from the sky” and Willow, a clever girl with a lot of nerve. Together, they venture into graveyards, churches and underground canals in search of the fabled book that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

The fact that all the action in the book takes place between the hours between midnight and sunrise adds to its charm. The desperation of the situation also builds up every time Boy and Willow, poor mistreated minions, complain about freezing because their clothes just aren’t warm enough. You can actually feel the chill in your bones during a scene where they get on a small horse-drawn cart, usually reserved for shuttling rations between the City and the village on the outskirts.

The Book of  Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick isn’t about demons and scary ghouls. It’s about those trying to escape dark forces after proactively calling them forth. Valerian, a once-brilliant academician and scientist, took his passion for knowledge to the next level when he began to experiment with arts that others daren’t touch for fear of the consequences. It thus lands him with a bit of supernatural power, enough to make a living as a magician, but not enough to buy happiness or evade money lenders.

Boy, yes, that is actually his name, is a 15-year-old who can’t remember much of his life before Valerian found him, save for a few memories of thieving to survive. He’s also got the knack of fitting into small, cramped spaces and has no beef with the darkness, which comes in handy at several points during the book. But most of the time, you either want to wrap him in blanket or knock him over the head for letting Valerian push him around.

Willow as a character is warmer, stronger and in shot – Boy’s antithesis. She pushes Valerian for answers when Boy doesn’t have the spine to do much except follow Valerian like a lost puppy. She also asks to be fed when she’s hungry because if the self-consumed Valerian doesn’t feel the need to eat, he shouldn’t assume others feel the same. This isn’t to say that her approach gets any results. But it’s nice to have her on Boy’s side.

Sedgwick has written a novel that features a simple plot line and highlights a theory that’s both fascinating and doesn’t unnecessarily complicate. The reader stays interested because the book short and amply spaced with new nuggets of information that add to the mystery in each of the sections – aptly counting down to the Dead Days.

But even though the book falls in the Young Adult category, I wouldn’t be too strict about it. Reading fantastical novels is definitely in the ream of a child, but for adults, they work wonders when you start to lack imagination. As we get older, we either forget about or dismiss myths, magic and folklore for having no basis in reality. But that’s the thing about imaginations isn’t it? Everything within its realms is neither possible nor impossible. The Book of Dead Days nudges you towards this thought process with zest.

The Book of Dead Days is The Caterpillar Book Club’s read for October. Read it with us!
Buy Book Of Dead Days, The (HEINEMANN) from Flipkart.comThe sequel, The Dark Flight Down is also available.

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