Monday, November 10, 2014

The Dead Days Omnibus by Marcus Sedgwick #review

Title: The Dead Days Omnibus (The Book of Dead Days and The Dark Flight Down)
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books, 2006

Although this is marketed as two books, I’m going to treat it as one volume, since that’s how I read it – a nice-looking hardcover edition too.

Boy lives in the City, which exists as an amalgamation of a number of different European cities, presided over by a distant emperor. Boy has no idea who his parents are, and for the first few years of his young life, grows up on the streets. This is until the stage magician Valerian takes him in.

For a while, Boy is Valerian’s assistant for his show, which he gives as a highlight of a slightly down-at-heel theatre in the city. This is also where Boy encounters a girl – Willow – who assists one of the other performers. A hesitant friendship develops.

Of course if this were to be just a story about what happens at the theatre, there wouldn’t be much of a book. Soon enough, there’s a murder, and Boy, Willow and Valerian embark on a quest after a McGuffin – and the clock is ticking. They have until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Marcus Sedgwick introduces us to a host of fascinating characters in a suitably gloomy and gothic setting. There really isn’t much substance to book one other than their quest, and an examination of the complicated relationship between Boy and Valerian. In my not so humble opinion, this relationship is straight-out exploitation.

As for the ending of book one, I gained the impression that Sedgwick wasn’t quite certain *how* he was going to finish, so the conclusion felt a bit convenient to me. Cataclysmic, yes, but I felt it was a bit abrupt. Ditto for the second book.

Boy and Willow are swept along by the adults’ machinations, and don’t seem to be all that active in affecting change around them – though they certainly aid or hinder the adult secondary characters.

That Boy is somehow special, there is little doubt, but it is only in book two, where I saw the final revelation coming from a mile away, that we realise exactly how special he is. More than that I won’t say (for the sake of spoilers).

In essence, we mix a dangerous McGuffin with a mad emperor, ambitious men, a whiff of brimstone and a suitably scary “Phantom”, and you end up with a bunch of disparate elements that are vaguely linked and don’t *quite* hang together.

So I’m basically sitting on the fence with this story. The Dead Days Omnibus is not a bad tale – not in the least. Though he has a tendency to randomly wander into omniscient third person (a personal bugaboo for me) he holds my interest, and I thoroughly enjoyed the mood and setting. I just felt that throughout this story that Boy was too accepting of his lot (I mean, he’s fifteen, and I remember all too well what I was like at that age) and that the plot of this story itself did not go beyond the obvious, linear. Elements like the Phantom could have been tied in stronger (this threat remains hanging around the edges but never quite resolved until the end).

Yet this *is* a lovely read, however, and especially thanks to the imagery, though I couldn’t truly engage with the characters in a meaningful way. But if a taste of the gothic is what you’re after, then you’ll gobble this up nonetheless.

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