Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Book Review: Midwinter Blood, by Marcus Sedgwick

This is a book I have recently finished reading with my junior reading group at school. Funnily enough, I found out today that the author, Marcus Sedgwick actually went to my secondary school, the same school I am working at, and he was in the same class and close friends with my Dad when he attended the same school back in the 70's! It's a small world. Sedgwick has done amazingly well, being shortlisted for the Carnegie medal (several times), the Costa award and the Edgar Allen Poe award too. 

I'm not a great reader of fantasy- I love it in films, but I hadn't found a fantasy book I really liked the look of- until now. Vampires have definitely been done or even overdone in teenage fiction, but Sedgwick brings something original to the often clich├ęd type of tragic heroes and heroines. There is just a taster of vampire legend in Midwinter Blood; with Sedgwick focusing solidly on more classical, beautiful archetypes, such as shape-shifters, royalty and village folk. The book takes the traditional folklore you would find in children's tales, and adds an often dark, grown-up and philosophical stance. 

In summary, but without spoiling the plot, the book starts from the point of view of young journalist, Eric Seven. It is 2073, and Eric is travelling by plane to the remote but exceptionally beautiful Blessed Island- a talked about place, for it is rumoured to have a supernatural quality that allows its inhabitants to exist forever. Midwinter Blood is divided into seven parts and an epilogue, all characterised by a time of moon. These different moons are: The Flower Moon, The Hay Moon, The Grain Moon, The Fruit Moon, The Hunter's Moon, The Snow Moon and the Blood Moon. I think this is a charming and intriguing concept that does enrich the novel, both plot-wise and in terms of creating a sense of romanticism. 


As you literally make your way through the intersecting parts of the novel, you take a metaphorical journey into the past,while experiencing elements of Blessed Island's present and future. This is done through an array of distinctive characters who are reincarnated numerous times into each other.The characters - ranging from a fighter pilot, a fisherman and a world famous painter, to the striking idea of the daughter of a wealthy mayor, trapped in a hare's body - experience different realms and stages of life. Most of these personalities, or all, but some very subtly, hold a kind of sixth sense in that they run on the fuel of memories of a former existence, but without knowing exactly who they are or what their pathway should be through life. Sedgwick is so skilled at his craft that the to-ing and fro-ing into alternative stories doesn't get disorientating, in fact it is liberating. Sedgwick leaves endless questions, yet drops enough clues for you as a reader to play along with his puzzle. The novel's seven parts circulate around two vital characters, who we eventually learn were king and queen of their time, until one was disturbingly slain in a ritual sacrifice. The whole way through the novel you find yourself rooting for this long-lost love story, despite not knowing which characters to trust and which to idolise. 

What I loved most about this book is not just how clever the sequencing is, but how lyrical, raw and enchanting the language is. Intricate passages of description are constantly woven into the narrative- the eloquence and detail of these reminds me of fairy tales I used to love as a child. If you're tempted to pick up this book even just to admire the imagery I'm raving about (!), then turn to part four in particular. This segment in the book is my very favourite and perhaps one of the most moving pieces I have ever read. And that's saying a lot, as I have read a huge amount of texts throughout my life so far and for my university course! This segment is named: "The Painter" and is a simply told but special story, documenting an adventurous young girl's infatuation with a retired famous painter. When Merle, the seven year old girl, is told not to visit a mysterious church set in an orchard at the edge of her town, curiosity gets the better of her. She sneaks off to watch the frail, old man who lives there, and decides to leave apples on his doorstep; worried he cannot come out to pick his own. This is the most adorable gesture and when they finally meet and become acquaintances, Merle discovers a vital secret which then leads to heartbreak. This part in the book tugged at my heartstrings the most. It's also the only part that could more or less stand alone as a short story. It's a good time to point out now that the novel is inspired by the 1915 painting: "Midvinterblot" by Swedish painter Carl Larssen (below). So although this story of the painter actually encompasses the whole essence of the novel, it is way above the rest of the book in terms of charm, and would make an incredible picture book; one that I would certainly treasure. 

The novel, aimed at teens, is reccommended for ages thirteen to eighteen, However I loved it and do think it is so carefully constructed and bursting at the seams with depth. It's a must read for this chilly season- curl up by the fireplace with a hot chocolate and I guarantee you will devour Midwinter Blood in one sitting! 

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