I can't begin to describe how excited I am to bring you this Spotlight on Death Watch, one that has been long over-due and in the works since the blog's inception a little over a year ago. As many of you well know, my alma mater is Alma College, but it is not the only college I attended...
After leaving Alma in the second term of my third year, I moved just fifteen minutes north to Mount Pleasant, home of Central Michigan University. It is upon enrolling part-time—with Jeremiah's encouragement—that I met the author of today's Book Spotlight, Dr. Ari Berk and his wonderful wife, Kristen.
|Ari Berk, courtesy of April Slaughter|
I am not sure how, but the topic of my manuscript came about in one of our after-class conversations, and I had the honor of having Ari glance at its beginning stages. I will forever be indebted to his insight and guidance, but hopefully this will help re-pay a little of that debt.
Silas Umber was born in the seaside necropolis of Lichport, but that's as far as his knowledge about the town extends. That is until the night his father, Amos, an Undertaker, does not return home from work and is presumed dead. Unable to pay the bills on their home in Saltsbridge, Silas and his mother are forced across the marshes, into Lichport, and into Uncle Charles' macabre menagerie of possessions he calls home.
As the story unfolds, Silas learns that the term Undertaker isn't exactly the one of familiarity, that his father's disappearance affected not just his own life, but those of the residents of Lichport, too. As he learns more about the Undertaking, he learns more about his father's secret life and Lichport, all while meeting a motley cast of characters in the town. With help from the townsfolk—and from a mysterious device called the Death Watch—Silas must uncover the breadcrumbs that all lead back to his father's disappearance.
|Death Watch © Ari Berk|
World Building. Berk was so successful in doing this, I actually started to wonder if the reality of Lichport—its numerous cemeteries, its cobblestone streets, its buildings (macabre and inviting all the same), and its rich history—actually existed on some level. Sadly, it only exists within the mind of Ari Berk, but he's described his little, secret town so well within the pages of the book, it actually feels as if you are there. The world is fully realized; I can't wait to return to it in Death Watch's sequel, Mistle Child, and to again be slightly creeped out by its reality.
|Map of Lichport © Ari Berk|
Folklore and Mythology. Being a professor of both, it is only to be expected that Berk would weave a story containing Myth and Lore; this story is not only filled with existing folklore, but the world of Lichport is steeped with its own, as well. Within the threads of the story itself, other stories and other histories are but accompanying threads, revealed to us either through the impeccable descriptions, through the eyes and mouths of the characters, or through the Undertaker's ledger, a compilation of records and notes created by Amos Umber and each Undertaker before him. Selections from this ledger accompany the text, making the reality of Lichport all the more real.
An Intertwining of Poetry & Prose. Berk not only proves himself as a master folklorist, but also a gifted poet within and amongst the prose. Interwoven amidst the warp of poems, rituals, and ballads are the weft of prose and descriptions that can be described as nothing but poetic. I only wish more books were created with such an eloquent yarn and lyrical shuttle.
Genre Knitting. There are so many genres blended seamlessly within this tale, it is nearly difficult to count them all. Only an author with great skill could pull it off, and fortunately for the readers, Ari Berk is one of them. Death Watch is one part Dark Fantasy, one part Gothic Literature, one part Paranormal Fantasy, one part Historical Fantasy, one part Folklore, one part Mythology, one part Ghost Story, and one part Contemporary (even Urban) Fantasy. But, if I had to choose one, I'd say the Gothic Literature elements of this tale toll the loudest and are reminiscent of the greats like Hawthorne, Shelley, and Walpole...even, wait for it...Poe-etic.
This is a must read. Period. And I am not just buttering the bread. Berk is a master story-teller that keeps you wanting more. And fortunately for us readers, the second book in the series has already been released.