When Silas Umber’s mother moves him back to his birthplace of Lichport, Silas hopes that he can use the time to discover more about his father, the resident Undertaker, who disappeared almost a year ago. But once he arrives and settles into the house of his uncle, an enigmatic man with locked rooms and an obsession with preservation, he finds not his father, but the shadows of him: a man who was more than a mortician, the Undertaker of Lichport, a staple in the community, and a treasured friend of many who still call the aged town home.
Amongst his father’s books and possessions, Silas also finds the Death Watch, a timepiece that allows its owner to see the dead, and realizes how little he knew of his father before his disappearance. As his despair over his father grows, Silas learns that it is mostly likely he who will become the next Undertaker; after all, someone has to appease the town’s residents, both living and deceased.
Death Watch is probably one of the most artful, beautifully written novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. The imagery and metaphor that is wound into every chapter shines in today’s young adult literature market. The dialogue is very well done; the lines reveal not so much about the person speaking them as they do about the constructs of Lichport itself, this little town where everyone is intertwined with the lives of one another, and with their inevitable deaths.
The only true issue that I have with Death Watch is that the combination of its length—over five hundred pages—and the carefully constructed sentences makes the read a little slow at times. This is certainly not a book for those who like fast car chases and edge-of-your-seat fistfights, and it took me around a hundred pages to really begin to get into the story. After Silas acquires the Death Watch, my reading began to pick up speed and I became more invested in the story. The story moves at a sleepy pace, much like the town of Lichport itself, but the weight of hypnotic detail in every action makes this story worth much more as an artful piece than an action-packed one.
Despite the length of the book and the time that it took me to read it, I believe that Berk made the right choice in every last word and phrase he placed into his work, and would not change a thing. In fact, I was rather surprised by the fact that this is the first book in a trilogy, as everything wraps up so well in the end it would fare equally well as a stand-alone novel. However, since it is not, I will be eagerly awaiting word of Berk’s next novel and tales of the mysterious town of Lichport that will come with it.
Emily Weaver enjoys museum galleries, wading in streams, and the more-than-occasional episode of anime. She also hopes to travel the world some day.