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The Book of Dead Days


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About the Author

Marcus Sedgwick is the award-winning author of Floodland, Witch Hill, and The Dark Horse. The author lives in Sussex, England. From the Hardcover edition.


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.

The characters in Sedgwick's (The Dark Horse) gothic chiller lurk in darkened theaters, alleyways and graveyards. The novel centers around a charlatan who years ago made a deal with a devil-and whose time is almost up. Valerian runs the magic show in the Great Theater, along with his assistant, an orphan he calls Boy, useful chiefly "because of his expertise at squeezing into ridiculously small spaces," to help with the magical illusions. As the unspecified year ("somewhere in the second half of the eighteenth century" writes the author in his introduction) draws to a close, violence begins to erupt-the owner of the theater is killed in gruesome fashion, and slowly Boy learns that Valerian is hiding a dark secret and evading a hellhound on his trail. The man's wisdom and magical prowess, it turns out, were bequeathed 15 years ago in a deal for his soul, a deal which is about to come due, during the "dead days" of the title (the stretch between Christmas and New Year's). The leisurely setup immerses readers in the delectably eerie surroundings (the book is two-thirds finished before Valerian begins to spill some of his secrets); those eager for action may grow impatient. But Sedgwick's atmosphere is so well rendered, the fog on the cobblestone streets so tangibly thick, that most will likely get caught up in this exotic era and its creepy characters. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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