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Death watch by Ari Berk

Death watch (edition 2011)

by Ari Berk

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915131,245 (4)1 / 3
Title:Death watch
Authors:Ari Berk
Info:New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011.
Collections:Your library, Read in 2013 (inactive)
Tags:mine, fiction, read in 13

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Death Watch (Undertaken Trilogy) by Ari Berk



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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. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Jun 30, 2013 |
I think I'm going to wait a couple of days before I rate this book in terms of stars. For now, I just want to voice all of my thoughts and frustrations with this 428 page book. I will probably return in a few days to adjust this review, but here goes...

Setting: At first, I really wanted this story to take place at some time during the late 1800's. The way that the author described the town of Lichport, I really feel like it was a town forgotten by time and the rest of the world. I envisioned the story taking place in another country (probably in an European country), and I imagined the characters dressing a particular way, and I expected the whole thing to have a very late 19th century, early 20th century feel to it. Even Silas’ name sounds like it’s from an older time. I was immediately taken a back when the author mentioned suburbs and shopping trips in Florida. While I liked imagining the story my own way, I feel like trying to put a time stamp and realistic location on this story actually did it a huge disservice.

Characters: I think the author did a good job of fleshing out the characters. I think that Silas, his mother (Dolores), Uncle, and Amos, all had very distinct personalities. The conflict between Silas and his mother and Amos and Dolores was very real. Uncle’s insanity was evident from the moment we’re introduced to him, and I think it continues to build throughout the story. Bea’s story was told, but I don’t think the relationship between her and Silas was developed enough. In general, though, I completely understood where each characters emotions and thoughts came from, and this is one of the few things that I did like about the story.

Job descriptions: It took entirely too long for the author to describe the role of undertaker. I think that the role of such an important position within the town should have been explained to Silas before he took on the job. I hated having to wait until I was 250 pages into the story to find out what was expected of Silas. I disliked having to wait even longer to find out what Mrs. Bowe’s job was, and even now, I’m still a little murky on the details.

Plot: The overall plot of the story, which is to respect the dead and traditions, is extremely repetitive. I appreciate didactic literature as much as anyone, but from beginning to end, you're bombarded with this idea that you have to remember your deceased loved ones, and quite frankly, I think it's too much, and I don’t agree with the book’s message. Life is for living…not remembering ancestors from hundreds of years ago. If we spent all of our time consumed by the responsibility of remember all of our dead kin, then that doesn’t leave much time for living our own lives. It also seemed like the author was particularly against the idea of moving away and leaving our deceased loved ones to rest peacefully in the ground. The moral of the story is actually a bit stifling—staying in one dead end place to be near our dead kin so that we’ll always remember them…

Conflict Resolution: I still feel like some things were unresolved. I would have liked to have known more about Bea and what became of her. I suspect this will be a series (which I will not continue reading), and it’s becoming a rather annoying habit of series writers to leave a bulk of the story unfinished because they want to carry it over to the next book, and they don’t even provide temporary solutions to certain conflicts within the story. The situation with Bea was an unresolved conflict.

Miscellaneous: Silas is told by Mrs. Bowe that his father's house belongs to him too. At one point in the story, Silas absolutely has to get out of Uncle's house. He takes his belongings and roams the streets for some time because he's unsure about where to go. I'm sorry for pointing this out, but this is totally unrealistic. If you're 15 years old and someone gives you a house, you don't just forget that. You're first natural instinct would be to go to the house that you now own! Right?

This book contains a lot of poetry and descriptive language. I almost feel like the author enjoyed writing poetry more than developing the plot. I don’t think I minded the poetry…this is just an observation.

Also, the eBook is riddled with an alarming amount of typos. The publisher really should have taken care of this before releasing the book. There are numerous sentences throughout the book that just don't make any sense.

Overall, I think the story should have been reigned in in some places. For the first 300 pages of the book, the story is all over the place and doesn’t really take on a set form in terms of introducing the characters, setting, conflict, and rising action, and then resolving the conflict. I was thoroughly disappointed with the story’s conclusion. The situation with Uncle was resolved entirely too easily, and I’m still not entirely sure what he wanted with Silas—perhaps a companion for Adam’s ghost (who was a minor character)? The author also assumed that her audience knew too much about the world she’d created. The bees and their purpose were never fully explained. The author should have assumed that the audience knew nothing. I feel agitated at having to write this review because I found the story long and tiresome to read, and the story seemed to jump all over the place, and as a result, it’s extremely difficult for me to pinpoint anything that was good/bad about the story. I’m not remembering events in a sequential order because the story didn’t have a rhythm to it. I think I have a general disdain for the story because I spent so much time wandering the town with Silas, waiting for something to happen, waiting for him to find out more information about his father, waiting to find out what uncle was hiding, and in the end I was let down.
( )
  russell.alynn | Apr 16, 2013 |
Death Watch is an enchanting story that brings meaning to the rituals that enhance the grieving process for those who have lost a loved one. In Silas, Mr. Berk has created a most unlikely but lovable hero, and it is with great pleasure the reader watches Silas step in to fill the role his father once held. Any reader who may be frightened of the idea of death is immediately assuaged by Lichport and the seriousness with which the town goes about its duties of official grieving. Even though it is part of a series, Death Watch is more like a stand-alone novel, with almost all mysteries resolved and the main plot tidied up nicely by the end of the story. There is something decidedly simple and refreshing in this departure from typical paranormal novels, and I look forward with pleasure to the release of the second novel of the series.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association for my copy!
  jmchshannon | Feb 12, 2012 |
I love going into reading a book with literally no expectations. I'm starting to learn that this is the best way to go about it. Unfortunately for me as a blogger, it is very difficult for me to stay out of the loop when it comes to a book that everyone is talking about. And I automatically know when a book is getting a ton of hype. The reviews say so. You'll find a post about it on every single blog you come across. Fortunately for me, this never happened with Death Watch. I'm not sure it would have changed anything if it had, but I'm glad it didn't. And I gotta say, I'm kind of shocked. If any book deserves crazy hype and buzz, it's this one.

Simply put, this was one of the most original and atmospheric reads I have come across this year. The writing is gorgeous. The descriptive passages are out of this world. And the characters? Oh. My. God. They were so lively and animated and each one had their own voice and it was an amazing thing to watch unfold. The town of Lichport was by itself a character. Most of the characters in this book weren't even living.

You all know how important world-building and setting depth is for me. I can't rate a book 5 stars if I can't picture it and believe I am there. Well let me just tell you that the setting in this story was clearly 5 star. I had a map in my mind of what the town looked like. It was fantastic. And the mythology? I don't know if any of it was factual or not and I really don't care. It blew me away. That's all you need to know. Some of the things you will find in this book? Ghosts, funerals, undead corpses (not zombies, you'll see when you read it), a ghost ship, and so much more.

Now before you go and read this book and then yell at me and tell me you didn't like it, there are a few things you should know. This book is not for everyone. It is I would say, paced fairly slowly. It's not boring, but if you are looking for Divergent pacing, look elsewhere. There are a lot of descriptive passages. Some people hate this. I would like to tell these people to stay far far away from the books that I love. Not because I don't respect your opinion, it's just that our tastes are going to be extremely different. I happen to think the descriptive passages only add to the story.

And there is a great story here. It's a coming of age story, but in a way that you have never seen presented before. It is about a teenage boy taking over his father's footsteps in a profession that is a bit...unconventional. His father is an undertaker, which is not what you think it is really. He's also missing. His uncle is psychotic. His mom is a drunk. And his great-great-great grandfather is still alive. Sort of. Does that pique your interest? If not, tell me so, and I will quit writing reviews. But first, you must read this book. ( )
  GreatImaginations | Nov 16, 2011 |
Story Title: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Ending: 5/5

(from Goodreads): 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.

Silas Umber: Could a name be more poetic? Silas, which is quickly pointed out, sounds much like solace, and Umber, the color of rich, brown earth… the Solace of the Grave, the comfort of being laid to rest peacefully beneath the earth. Is there a more perfect name for an Undertaker? I think not.
Silas is the child of Amos and Dolores Umber, and he is a boy lost. His father disappears in the first chapter of the book, and through the rest of the story we witness Silas coming of age as he moves back to Lichport with his mother, and seeks to find the truth of what happened to his dad.
Bea: A mysterious girl who is infatuated with Silas and, like almost everyone in Lichport, obviously has secrets of her own.
Mother Peale: An elderly woman, and one of the Narrows Folk (the Narrows being the part of town filled with people of the sea) Mother Peale is an old friend of Silace’s father and wise in the ways of those who have remained to wander the streets of this haunted town.
Mrs. Bowe: A close friend of Amos Umber, Mrs. Bowe is a source of knowledge and support for Silas as he tries to walk in his father’s footsteps. Often infuriatingly vague, to the point where you just want to scream, “JUST TELL THE BOY ALREADY!”, she has her reasons for being so, and is always worried about Silas’ well being. She has a special role to play in the town, and is an aide and associate to the work of the Undertaker, as well as someone with invaluable insight into the motives of Uncle. She also has quite the mysterious relationship with bees, and I often wondered, as I read, if we would find out more about this.
Amos Umber: Silas’s father, and the Undertaker of Lichport, he disappears in the beginning of the book, but his presence haunts the pages throughout. Obviously well loved by his son, as well as the town of Lichport, he is a well formed and delicately constructed character whose portrait is painted for the reader through his own items left behind, as well as the abundant stories of the townsfolk.
Dolores Umber: Silas’s neglectful mother, she spends most of her time at the bottom of a bottle and is a character that one finds it very hard to have sympathy for. She has traits in her, though, that can be seen in Silas, and that the reader spends the book praying he will overcome.
Uncle: Overly kind in the most creepy of ways, it’s obvious something is amiss with Uncle the minute you read his letter. He is set on one mission, and nothing will stop him from carrying it out. As with some of histories best villians, he is scary because he truly believes that what he is doing is right.

If you dislike books like The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien or The Foundling Series by D.M. Cornish, then don’t read this book. Death Watch is filled with eloquent prose rich with world building. The town of Lichport stands out, a character on its own, and invites the reader to walk its streets right along with Silas.
It is not often that I force myself to slow down while reading a book, but I had to with Death Watch, for fear that it would be over too soon. I couldn’t help but take the time to savor each page. The book begged to be read aloud, the rich detail of each paragraph pouring from the page and painting a vivid picture of the world through which Silas walked.
Drawn in from the opening pages, this rich, dark story gripped me in the same way that books such as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline or Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes have. It was haunting and filled with a potent atmosphere of the macabre. Each chapter offered insight into a new mystery from Lichport’s past, and not a word was wasted. The ghosts that haunted the pages of this book continued to haunt my imagination long after I put the book down and turned out the lights. They followed me like shadows throughout the day, enticing me from my responsibilities so they could have the chance to further tell their tales, and like Silas, I quickly learned to shut up and listen.
Truly, it was hard to deny this book… and as rich as the world building was, the characters themselves were just as layered and mysterious. Silas spent the book learning mostly through experience, rarely making the exact same mistake twice. He grew as he went, changing from boy to man, letting go of childish behaviors that prevented him from truly seeing the world around him.

I don’t think I can rightly express how happy the end of this book made me. When I read the cover and saw that this was a trilogy, I dreaded reaching the end, because frankly, I’m getting tired of how every YA book these days tends to be a trilogy, and often, most of them could easily have been wrapped up in one book (or just weren’t worth three+ books to begin with). Death Watch had a complete and satisfying ending, and with it, I was left wondering if this would be more along the lines of The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, where each book was dedicated to different character. Regardless of whether each book follows Silas, or simply other Undertakers in the town of Lichport, I am now a dedicated reader. I cannot wait to see what book two brings.

This is not a book of sappy, sparkly, meaningless romances that seem to develop without any true rhyme or reason.
Thank God.

This is a coming of age story, under the most dire circumstances. It’s a book that causes the reader to sit back and wonder how, and if, they could handle what Silas is faced with. As much about the world of the living as it is about the world of the dead, the book balances on a knife’s edge between the two, and the reader often finds themselves wondering if Silas will be lost to one or the other.

Death Watch is woven together from multiple story threads that span the history of Lichport, adding to the rich background that serves as the stage for Silas’s own adventure. Each one is just as intriguing as the next, and kept me reading avidly until the end, wanting to know what had happened in each circumstance.

Believability of World:
Lichport is so rich, so detailed, so steeped in nostalgia that it feels as if I’ve already been there, even though I know I have not. Lichport itself is a real town, and I wonder how much of this book draws from its history. Regardless, the version in this story, even with its paranormal patrons, reads as a town that just might be found if one looked.

Overall Grade: A+ ~ A book for those who love stories with rich, deep histories, with detailed descriptions that make you feel like you were there. Not for readers looking for a gushy love story, or driveling characters that need a significant other to make up their minds for them. Death Watch is for lovers of literature, those readers who revel in the velvety texture of words as they roll off the tongue. It is for those who read aloud at night to empty rooms, just to hear each line sing. This will go on my shelf of favorites, thank you, Mr. Berk, for such a rich tale. ( )
  littlebearries | Nov 7, 2011 |
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When seventeen-year-old Silas Umber's father disappears, Silas is sure it is connected to the powerful artifact he discovers, combined with his father's hidden hometown history, which compels Silas to pursue the path leading to his destiny and ultimately, to the discovery of his father, dead or alive.… (more)

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