Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Dark Flight Down - Marcus Sedgwick

The Dark Flight Down is the sequel to Marcus Sedgwick's The Book of Dead Days.

Sedgwick left several plot threads untouched at the end of the first book, particularly those relating to Boy's past, but he ties them up in this compelling, sometimes chilling, story. Boy is now working for the scientist Kepler, who sends him on an errand to the Yellow House, Valerian and Boy's former home. Whilst there, he's captured by Imperial soldiers and taken to the palace, where the dying, mad emperor Frederick is waited on by a group of power-hungry courtiers. Frederick is single, and he decides that he wants to become immortal so that he can rule forever without needing an heir. His right-hand man, Maxim, hopes to use Boy, whom he knows was Valerian's famulus (assistant) to somehow find the Book of Dead Days, so that he can make Frederick immortal.

To make things worse, the bloodthirsty Phantom is still loose in the city and Boy soon discovers that it dwells in the palace, deep underground. Boy is surrounded by treachery and Machiavellian lies, and his only hope lies with his friend, Willow, with whom he had planned to run away on the day he was captured. But then Boy learns the horrific truth behind the Phantom and the emperor - and what connection they both have to his past.

There's rather less magic and rather more mystery in The Dark Flight Down, compared to The Book of Dead Days. The titular book only appears in the story occasionally as the focus is mostly on Boy's attempts to escape Maxim, and to find out his true identity. Since the horror is all human, it's far more frightening than demons.

Sedgwick does a good job of wrapping up his story, revealing Boy's mysterious past and the identity of his family. The identity of the Phantom was a complete shock to me, a shock that was fairly horrific. The character of Boy is developed a great deal in the second book as he realises that it's not your name or parentage that defines you, but who you are and what you do that matters.

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