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Death Watch (The Undertaken #1)

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  575 ratings  ·  123 reviews
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 c
Hardcover, 536 pages
Published November 2011 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
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31st out of 56 books — 62 voters
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86th out of 196 books — 129 voters

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Community Reviews

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This is the most elegantly terrifying book I have ever read. A beautifully crafted story that brings myths and legends of life and death into a very real place, "Death Watch" is certain to keep you up at night because you can't put it down and you don't want to close your eyes.

If you feel that the book is slow, do NOT give up on it! In our world of insta-tweeter-twit news, we have fallen out of the habit of allowing a story to unfolds, page by page. There is a difference between eating and dini
Tony DiTerlizzi
This truly gothic novel is imbued with hauntingly beautiful prose and vividly drawn characters set in a town just as imaginative as its inhabitants. Death Watch will linger with you long after you lay it to rest.
I adore Silas. He and I would be the best of friends. Throughout the novel, I had to stop because memories from my life would come flooding back corresponding perfectly with his.

I am not sure I can even describe the depths of my connections with this book. The lonely, lost little child longing for a father, how introverted Silas is, his deep connection with books and memories, his deep connection with the dead and those who hurt.

I've found throughout my life that the pain we encounter can often
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!

Ari Berk's slowly plotted but excellently told tale of teenage Undertaker Silas Umber is a magical, enchanting, if occasionally macabre, tale - one I found hard to put down. The smooth, mellifluous flow of the writer's style eased me into an alternate world of revenants, lichs and ghosts in the necropolis of the book's setting, in the town of Lichport. I can't stress enough how much I enjoyed this quirky, individual young-adult novel with a supernat
Elizabeth-Jane Baldry
Death Watch is the extraordinary first novel in the Undertaken Trilogy by Ari Berk.

A compelling tale, masterfully told!

It is a rare and intoxicating achievement by an author when his story-world leaps fully formed off the page, entirely congruent and believable. Gormenghast, Middle Earth and Narnia were just such creations, and Professor Berk's atmospheric Lichport is on a par with these classics.

Death Watch tells the story of young Silas Umber who returns with his mother to Lichport, the town o
Few novels truly touch on the depth of emotion that Death Watch did, and none have ever made me miss my passed family members more or remember them more fondly. One scene left me in sobbing tears for an entire evening. That said, the book is still miraculously hopeful and wistfuly optimistic. When I finished I was completely in love with the characters, the town and I cannot wait for the sequel. Haunting. Absolutely fantastic and one of the best books I've read this year.
Alan Ford
Love the book, but I would like to use this space to report on what my college students think of it. Death Watch is required reading in my Writing in the Humanities and Children’s Literature courses. Initial reactions were of the “500 pages! Are you kidding?” variety. The book arrived in our college bookstore yesterday, and I am exceedingly pleased to say that many of the most vocal skeptics are now quite enthusiastic. From today’s class: “I can’t wait to read the next chapter”; “I’m staying up ...more
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
Elena Bozzi
This was one of those rare books where everything else had to go on hold so I could go on a journey with the story. The setting was so old and leaning and beautiful and the characters developed into such real people that this book definitely constitutes many rereads. Every idea proposed about the meaning of living and the blurry line of passing into the otherworld generated tangents of thought, but the power of the prose and plot brought me back and kept me going. The best part? This is only the ...more
Elliot Schott
I got the chance to pick up an advance copy of this book and hear the author read bits of it aloud in an intimate setting at Schuler Books in Lansing, MI. Death Watch sets the stage for a brilliant series geared toward the young adult to adult reader. This is the story of Silas Umber, the teenage son of Amos, whom Silas thinks is a mortician but plays a role much more important to the dead. When Amos goes missing and is presumed dead, Silas and his alcoholic mother are invited by his Uncle Charl ...more
It feels to me that today’s YA market is supersaturated by a preponderance of speculative novels about werewolves, vampires, and faeries. Maybe that’s just my perception of the YA world post-Twilight, but it does mean that when I see a YA novel with supernatural elements that doesn’t include any of the aforementioned creatures I get rather excited. Originality is always something to be praised and the minute I set my eyes on the somber and minimalist cover of Ari Berk’s Death Watch I knew that I ...more
Originally posted at Beneath the Jacket

I'm kind of shocked that I haven't seen this book featured or reviewed on other blogs. Somehow it went under the radar and people seemed to have missed its release. Well, I think it's time to change that.

Death Watch is for fans of the horror genre. It's been a while since a book freaked me the heck out. Sure, Anna Dressed In Blood has its moments, but Death Watch takes it to a whole other level. This mainly comes from Berk's descriptions and prose. The whol
It's got the trappings of all of the morbid, gloomy, funerary, curios-and-specimens-in-formaldehyde momento mori sort of stuff that I am a sucker for, but I couldn't get emotionally connected in it. I really didn't care. Nothing within the book ever came alive for me (har har) - not the story, nor the characters. I nearly quit reading the book several times and had to force myself to continue. The format of the novel, interspersed with poetry and excerpts from an antique "ledger" that came into ...more
Rebecca Hunter
Wow. This slow-burn story is a great read! This is a ghost story, but it is really a story about relationships. As each relationship unfolds you feel a richness of story that truly draws you in. This story is told with such wonderful grace as the author's words paint a picture and then invites you to join him. It is a wonderful coming-of-age story with just the right amount of mystery, romance and angst to keep you hanging. I just want to hug Silas and make it all right! I continue to think of t ...more
BAYA Librarian
Silas Umber ‘s best friend is his father Amos. So when one night Amos fails to come home from work he is completely devastated. Left alone with a bitter alcoholic mother and no money they are forced to move in with his wealthy uncle to the place of his birth, the town of Litchport. Uncle lives in the Umber family mansion, a slightly creepy place filled with ancient tomes, manuscripts and artifacts that have to do with death and the dead. There is also a something else, something unsettling that ...more
Reminiscent of classic Poe-esque gothic horror, yet not beyond the scope of imagining this as a Stephen King brain-child; this book is one of the more weird and interesting reads that's fallen out of my bookshelf.
I was first thrown a little by the pace of this book. As promised, it is very slow going. Many times I was caught confused, not understanding a point; I felt I was being kept from pertinent information. Assuming things would unfold, I hung in and once I was familiar the pace quickened
Wayne McCoy
When Silas' father disappears one night, he begins a journey to discover who his father really was and to take up in the family business as an undertaker. Undertaker in this case has quite a different definition. He returns to the town he was born in, Lichport, and discovers an entire town of interesting characters.

Left with only an unusual pocketwatch, Silas tries to find out what happened to his father in a town with a long tradition of caring for the dead. Along the way, he discovers the hist
Death Watch was a long book and it felt like one, too. But the interesting characters, fantastic world building, and intricate setting all kept my interest. I wanted to find his dad as much as he did. Maybe not with the same motives. I wanted answers and lots of them. About the death watch, the history of the town as well as the family. I wanted to know what secrets everyone was holding and what danger he was in. And little by little a lot was revealed. Though there was still much left to be des ...more
I planned on reading Death Watch in October because I wanted to read a lot of scary and creepy books due to Halloween. I wanted to read books that freak me out, cause goose bumps and get under my skin.
Death Watch definitely got under my skin but in a totally different way than I expected.

Death Watch is not a story that’s full of suspense, not a story whose protagonists’ lives are often at stake, whose protagonists experience some horrible and cruel things that get’s you frightened or some other
Kim McGee
On a recommendation from author Tony Diterlizzi I started reading Death Watch by Ari Berk. This wonderful book reads as if you were Dr. Frankenstein and you put a bit of Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Neil Gaimen together. It is a gothic horror story with heart. Young Silas Umber comes with his mother back to his childhood home to search for his father who suddenly disappeared. They are taken in by Silas's strange uncle and live in a mansion full of New England haunts. Si ...more
R Maxwell
Death Watch is an amazing book filled with so many rich images and care worn treasures written into it that it is unlike any other book I have read. I feel that the world that Death Watch lets it's readers glimpse is clearly forged with a sliver of true soul embedded in it. I loved the way it wove itself together becoming not just a story about characters but an experience within this rather unique and forgotten land. There are truths written in these pages that speak deeply to me and I will re ...more
Rebecca Hunter
Wow. This slow-burn story is a great read! This is a ghost story, but it is really a story about relationships. As each relationship unfolds you feel a richness of story that truly draws you in. This story is told with such wonderful grace as the author's words paint a picture and then invites you to join him. It is a wonderful coming-of-age story with just the right amount of mystery, romance and angst to keep you hanging. I just want to hug Silas and make it all right! I continue to think of t ...more

Slightly creepy (okay very creepy), yet still heartbreaking and heartwarming. It's refreshing to have a YA novel were the character doesn't have anything to do with school, friends, or any of the general YA trappings. Easily enjoyed by adults and teens.
Beautifully foggy and grey and rainy, filled with tenderness and love and ghosts and lyrical, graceful writing. Death Watch is one of those books that you dream inside of until it's over and then you're bereft and a little sad that you've reached the end. The characters are deeply sympathetic and real (Silas and Mrs. Bowe, in particular, waltz into the reader's heart with little effort and make their home there) and the plot unravels mystery after mystery only to open the door to more questions ...more
Jesse Carrasco
After seeing the cover (I'm a sucker for the Tim Burtonesque artwork) and reading a lot of the great reviews I was excited to dive into this book. I love teen books and the supernatural so I thought this would be right up my alley. After reading it for a few weeks I am struggling to finish it. I have about 100 pages left but I just don't care. It's a very slow paced story and the prose is very descriptive (which I don't mind. In fact, I loved "The Night Circus" which is similar in style.) and I ...more
Perhaps one of the best books I've ever read. While the narrative focuses on Silas Umber's growth into Undertaker, there is a central mystery at the heart of Death Watch surrounding the disappearance of Silas's father. Silas must learn from his father's old friends and the work he has left behind what it means to bring Peace to the departed while setting aside his own anxieties related to his missing father. The narrative is lush with rich and vivid stories about the townsfolk of Lichport, and t ...more
Emily Carding
I’m a bit in love with this book. If I were to come up with a catchy description to try and grab the attention of other readers, I might describe it as Hamlet meets Jamaica Inn. However, whilst references to the works of the Bard and other classic literary sources may be found lovingly woven throughout, ‘Death Watch’ is a truly original work. Befitting the theme of the tale, it stands proudly on the shoulders of its ancestors.

Death Watch is a thought-provoking and profoundly moving exploration o
I have pretty mixed feelings about this book, but on the whole, I think it was worth what I paid for it. The problem is that this book took me forever to read, without giving much more story than a book half it's size. Berk takes his sweet time getting to the point, but he uses those extra words to talk philosophically. It really got me thinking about some things, but there were times when I wanted to beat my head on the wall too. I recommend this for someone with plenty of patience, but I do re ...more
This entire series was just ok. I wish it had been more like the Garth Nix Sabriel series, which is one of my favorites. Alas. Silas Umber is a strange child who becomes even more strange when his dad disappears and he and his terrible mother are forced to move back to the town where his parent's grew up and live with his dad's brother. Here Silas starts to learn the truth about his dad's profession which he thought was a typical undertaker. Instead, it was more of a guide for the dead, helping ...more
Krys (Black & Write Reviews)
Via Black 'n Write Review
My final thoughts:
Okay, OK… So this story had me confused at the beginning with all these names and no other tying storyline for me to make sense of things, alas after a few chapters I realized that the story – more or less – jumped between the two towns of Lichport (Silas’ birthplace) and Saltsbridge (the town which Dolores insisted on moving the family after Silas was born). So in this book we find out Amos Umber was a chronic liar, mostly in part because Dolores didn’
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Ari Berk is a writer, artist, and scholar of literature, folklore, and myth. Former student of and assistant to Pulitzer Prize winning writer N. Scott Momaday, Ari has written everything from academic works on ancient cultures to popular books about myths and legends for children and adults and, most recently, a trilogy of novels. He works in a library filled to the ceiling with thousands of arcan ...more
More about Ari Berk...

Other Books in the Series

The Undertaken (3 books)
  • Mistle Child (The Undertaken, #2)
  • Lych Way (The Undertaken, #3)
Nightsong Mistle Child (The Undertaken, #2) The Secret History of Mermaids and Creatures of the Deep The Secret History of Giants Lych Way (The Undertaken, #3)

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“In life, a person will come and go from many homes. We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” 129 likes
“He passed his hands over some of the fine embossed bindings as he thought, I am a book also, words and thoughts and stories held together by flesh. We open and close ourselves to the world. We are read by others or put away by them. We wait to be seen, sitting quietly on shelves for someone to bother having a look inside us. 13 likes
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