Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #19: Death Watch

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #19: Death WatchDeath Watch by Ari Berk
Series: The Undertaken #1
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on November 15, 2011
Genres: Gothic, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 544
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

They say the dead should rest in peace. Not all the dead agree.

One night, Silas Umber's father Amos doesn’t come home from work. Devastated, Silas learns that his father was no mere mortician but an Undertaker, charged with bringing The Peace to the dead trapped in the Shadowlands, the states of limbo binding spirits to earth. With Amos gone, Silas and his mother have no choice but to return to Lichport, the crumbling seaside town where Silas was born, and move in with Amos’s brother, Charles.

Even as Silas eagerly explores his father’s town and its many abandoned streets and overgrown cemeteries, he grows increasingly wary of his uncle. There is something not quite right going on in Charles Umber’s ornate, museum-like house—something, Silas is sure, that is connected to his father’s disappearance. When Silas’s search leads him to his father’s old office, he comes across a powerful artifact: the Death Watch, a four hundred year old Hadean clock that allows the owner to see the dead.

Death Watch in hand, Silas begins to unearth Lichport’s secret history—and discovers that he has taken on his father’s mantle as Lichport’s Undertaker. Now, Silas must embark on a dangerous path into the Shadowlands to embrace his destiny and discover the truth about his father—no matter the cost.

Recommended by: Kara of Great Imaginations

First Sentence: “He should have gone home.”

Review: Ari Berk’s Death Watch is, without doubt, one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. His prose is lyrical, gothic, and drenched with meaning. The discussions of life, death, and family are thought-provoking and touching. For the prose alone, this book is a hundred percent worth reading. Berk has massive talent and, though I can’t say this series, is perfect for me, I will be keeping an eye on his career.

The catalyst of Death Watch is the disappearance of Amos Umber, Silas’ father. Silas and his mother are turned out of their home, for it belongs to his Uncle. With little recourse available to them, they agree to move back to Lichport, the hometown of both his parents and his own birthplace, to live with his Uncle. There, he must confront his father’s disappearance and his destiny, and try to help Lichport in the process.

The world depicted in Death Watch feels both real and fantastical, modern and historical. Lichport feels like a place out of time, a town where the realm of the dead is closer than anywhere else. Ghosts roam the streets, inhabit houses, and attempt murders. Berk captures the eerieness perfectly, but also the magic. Ghosts are like people; they aren’t all bad, and they come in all sorts of forms. In fact, some ghosts are even corporeal, lingering almost like zombies, simply unwilling to accept that they’re dead. The world building is fantastic and rich, full of ghost lore. The family dynamics are like Lemony Snicket meets Hamlet, which basically means it’s dark and messed up, but a bit fanciful. Actually, much of the story recalls Shakespeare or classic literature.

Where Death Watch came up short for me was in plotting and characterization. So far as the plot goes, I would have liked more of it. Death Watch is hefty at over 500 pages, and it felt long too. There’s a lot of meandering to the plot, and, despite that, I felt like most of the actual plot elements were dealt with so swiftly as to be unsatisfying. Berk focuses more on the quiet reflection than on the active moments, like Silas having to separate from his ghostly girlfriend and the takedown of the villain.

Though I like Silas, I don’t feel any strong emotions towards him, and I can’t be bothered about anyone else in Death Watch. I felt a definite distance from him that never diminished. He also never really does much growing through the course of the book, and certainly the others don’t. His troubled relationship with his mother is never really resolved or satisfactorily confronted. His brief courtship of the ghostly girl is told in such a way that it elicited no feels from me, though it is a tragic experience for him. He’s a character I feel I should have liked, but the story focuses so much more on the writing and world building than on building up characters. Also, on a side note, this novel really doesn’t strike me as young adult and, if anything, would fall more under the new adult umbrella, as Silas is over 18 and deals with issues of becoming an adult, like finding a profession and moving out of his parents’ home.

Anyone who enjoys ghost stories or gothic literature will be doing themselves a disservice by not reading Death Watch.

Favorite Quote:

“It was well past one a.m. and into that portion of evening where things went very quiet, as if the world was waiting for something to happen. But Silas was tired of living in a world where everyone and everything held its breath.”

Up Next:

The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book is Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke suggested by Ashleigh Paige of Birth of a New Witch. Thanks so much to Ashleigh for putting in a recommendation, even if I’m the black sheep on this one…

Want to tell me what to read? For more details, check this post.

10 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #19: Death Watch”

  1. Megan K. says:

    If the synopsis didn’t already grab my attention, the author’s beautiful prose did. Too bad the book seemed to drag on for a bit. It all sounds very interesting, but what’s the point if the book is slow? One question: is the book creepy? I love horror books – real horror – so I think I might like it more if the book was spooky. Either way, thanks for putting this on my radar.

    AH. Can’t wait to see your thoughts on BtDatDBS!

    • Christina says:

      The prose was glorious, and I think it’s worth reading for that alone, even if I am still on the fence about reading the second book. I don’t know that it was super horror-y, but it was definitely eerie. Spooky seems apt. I think you might like it more than I did!

      So…advance warning: I didn’t like it.

  2. Faye M. says:

    Ooooh, beautiful prose?! I’m a sucker for beautiful prose. I don’t mind if it’s long-winded as long as it gives me a reason to continue, and gorgeous writing is a good reason ;p And horror, too! I think I’ll check this out as well. Thanks, Christina!

    Faye @ The Social Potato Reviews

  3. Giselle says:

    Holy shiz.. over 500 pages? I have had this ARC for like ages haha. I have heard mixed things about it which is why it’s still unread but it does sound decent. Too bad there’s not better character building that always affects the book as a whole for me. But I do like that it’s a male protag!

    Oh and Between The Devil was so good and atmospheric! I’m curious to see how you like it! 😀

    • Christina says:

      Haha, yeah, this is a chunky one. The sequel’s much shorter, which is a strong point for reading it. Haha. I am ALL about character-building, which is why I didn’t love this as much as Kara.

      AWKWARD. Devil made me ranty.

  4. I couldn’t read this one at all, Christina. t was just a lot of beautiful words for the sake of beautiful words but no real movement.

  5. Amy says:

    Wow, that’s a long book, but it sounds really good. I don’t know if it would be for me, but it’s something I would probably try to see if I liked it.

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