Dead and deadly,
This review is from: Book of Dead Days (Paperback)Can a Faustian pact be avoided? And if so, what's the cost? That's what our heroes -- and enemies -- are trying to do in "The Book of Dead Days," a chilling historical fantasy where a nameless boy searches for the means to save his master, and for the clues to his own past.
In a ragtag circus, Valerian the magician serves up many of the thrills -- with Boy as his slavish assistant. But that changes during the Dead Days between Christmas and New Year's, when Valerian is attacked and buried alive. Boy and his friend Willow cart him home, and hear Valerian's terrible story: Fifteen years ago, he made a Faustian pact to win the heart of the woman.
Now the time has come to give up his life and soul to a demon, and he's desperate to escape his fate. Boy and Willow agree to help him find the Book of Dead Days, which is hidden in a crypt somewhere in the city. But Boy doesn't realize how desperate Valerian is, or that he plans to sacrifice Boy in his stead...
Perhaps the worst thing about the "Book of Dead Days" is the fact that it ends with so many threads hanging -- the whole mystery of who Boy is remains unsolved. Up until that point, there are few weak spots at all. With a plucky heroine, slightly dopey hero and medieval magic, "The Book of Dead Days" is like reading the gothic twin of Lloyd Alexander's books.
Marcus Sedgwick has always had a sort of Edward-Gorey-like writing style, with the ability to make the everyday look a bit dark and bizarre. In the time of the Holy Roman Empire, he makes readers see the superstition, the cold, and the grime. Not to mention bone chapels, magical books and plenty of creepy underground tunnels.
And it somehow seems appropriate that Boy, the nameless hero, is a rather timid, pallid character for most of the book; he only shows his strength when he sees what Valerian really is. He and plucky Willow are the only characters who are what they seem to be; others can be creepily deceptive, and have their own (murderous) motives for what they do.
Though it ends with an obvious "to be continued," Marcus Sedgwick creates another haunting, vivid story in "Book of Dead Days." Just be sure to find out the rest of Boy's story.