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The Book of Dead Days
by Marcus Sedgwick

Publishing Information: Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2004
ISBN: 0385730551 / 0385747047 (PB)
: 273 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

In this dark and foreboding mystery, the magician Valerian and his servant, Boy, desperately search for the book that will spare Valerian's life as the deadline fast approaches.  

Book Talk:
Boy didn't really know any life apart from his time with Valerian, the magician - hiding in boxes, pulling levers, setting of thunder flashes, and opening trap doors. It wasn't much of a life - he was more a slave than an assistant - but it was better than living on the streets in the city. Boy knew there was something wrong with Valerian. He couldn't exactly put it into words, but he knew. Valerian was preoccupied, worried, almost scared. But why? Surely, there were strange things going on in the city - ghastly murders, grave robbings, and such. And this was, of course, that time of year - The Dead Days - between Christmas and New Years when anything could happen. It was a strange and quiet interlude, somehow outside the rest of the year, outside time itself. But Boy sensed it was more than that. Something was really troubling his master. But, what? Why? Boy is dispatched to get a message from a disreputable character at a sleazy tavern across town, only to wind up in prison for a murder he didn't commit. Valerian rescues him in a daring escape, but then has him crawling around an old cemetery, looking not for a body, but for a book. How could some old book be so important? It is important enough Valerian is risking everything to find it. It is important enough to take them out of the city, in a snow storm, to a country church. Why won't Valerian at least tell Boy why he's chasing all over the place looking for ... what? Salvation? Why does Valerian think he needs to find it by New Year's Eve? What deep dark secret does Valerian hide from his faithful companion? Ride beneath the city streets, in the old abandoned tunnels and waterways and encounter the terrible fate that awaits Boy and his master when they come face to face with the last person they ever expect to see in this dark, subterranean world, holding the very book Valerian so desperately needs.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Boy Orphans
Domestic Workers
Faustian Bargains
Good and Evil
Gothic Fiction
Lost and Found Possessions

Awards & Reviews:
Booklist, September 1, 2004, p.123
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2004
Publisher's Weekly, December 20, 2004, p. 60
School Library Journal, November 2004, p. 154

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Boy and Willow are accused of murder. Why does Valerian save both of them? Is it only because he wants more information that they might have, or is there another, deeper reason?
  2. In the beginning, Willow and Boy are very different from one another: Willow is strong-willed and brave, while Boy often cowers. How do they grow as
    characters throughout the book? How do they change and influence one another?
  3. Boy is told many different stories in the book about his own identity: Valerian tries to convince him that he is just a vessel to be used and Kepler tells him that he is Valerian's son. At the end of the novel, Boy's identity is still a mystery. Where do you think Boy came from?
  4. The narrator touches on Boy's life before Valerian found him throughout the novel. "The thought of being alone in the City at night worried him. It brought back memories of things he had half forgotten, of all the years he had lived alone on the streets." (p. 81) Why is he so dependent on Valerian when it is obvious that he can survive on his own? Does Valerian hold some sort of power over him, or is there some deeper emotion involved?
  5. What is The Book of Dead Days that is referred to in the title?
  6. The novel explores many things that were considered magic at that time. How much of the book can be interpreted as magic and how much has a scientific explanation?
  7. Valerian treats Boy and Willow in very different ways. Why do you think this is? Why does Boy become jealous of Willow?
  8. How does Valerian manage to trick The Master into thinking that the animals that he is trying to create are truly alive?
  9. When does Boy lose faith in Valerian? At what point does he stop seeing him as a powerful magician? Does he ever completely abandon him?
  10. At one point, Valerian "put a hand out to Boy's cheek for a moment, then seemed to remember himself and instantly pulled it back. It happened so fast that Boy wondered if he'd imagined it." (p. 199) How would you explain Valerian's fleeting affection for Boy?

Related Websites:
Marcus Sedgwick's Homepage -

The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix, 1995 - 2003
The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, 2003 - 2006
Inkheart and Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, 2003 - 2005
The Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer, 2001 - (Artemis Fowl was a 2002 RITBA Nominee)
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, by Chris Wooding, 2004 (2006 RITBA Nominee)

Other Books by the Author:
Floodland, 2001
Witch Hill, 2001
A Christmas Wish, 2003
The Dark Horse, 2003
The Emperor's New Clothes, 2004
The Dark Flight Down, 2005 (sequel to The Book of Dead Days)
| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair