By Marty Mulrooney
Midwinterblood is the latest novel from award-winning children’s author Marcus Sedgwick and is published by Indigo, an imprint of Orion. Sedgwick’s White Crow was my favourite book of 2010, described in AMO’s review as “a scary, heart-warming, intelligent book.” It was therefore with great anticipation that I began reading Midwinterblood, a breathtaking love story that spans across centuries and genres. Ultimately, Midwinterblood poses the question: What would you sacrifice for someone you’ve loved for ever?
Eric Seven does not believe in love at first sight.
He corrects himself.
Even in that moment, the moment it happens, he feels his journalist’s brain make a correction, rubbing out a long-held belief, writing a new one in its place.
He did not believe in love at first sight. He thinks he might do now.
’I’m Merle,’ she says. Her light hair falls across one eye as she shakes his hand. She flicks it aside. And smiles.
Midwinterblood begins in June 2073. Journalist Eric Seven has just arrived on Blessed Island, a place where it is rumoured people have started to live forever. There are no children on the island and, although the inhabitants seem friendly enough, they also seem to be hiding the part of the island that is home to a flower known as the Blessed Dragon Orchid.
Eric stays on the beautiful, isolated island for quite some time, encouraged to drink a peculiar tea that slowly makes him forget precisely why he journeyed there in the first place. He soon befriends a young woman called Merle, with whom he immediately feels a profound, inexplicable connection. She eventually brings him back to his senses just before the pair are captured and taken to be brutally sacrificed. I, thinks Eric Seven, have lived this before. And so it begins.
At that moment, Nancy had been about to show Edward what she’d just found in the grave. The spongy, fragile remains of wood among the bones of the adult skeleton.
One part at the chest, the other between the jaws.
Midwinterblood can be a rather disorienting read at first. No sooner do we get to know Eric and Merle before they are torn from us, headed towards their deaths in a bizarre ritual sacrifice. The story is split into seven parts and each part takes place during a different time period, but in exactly the same place: Blessed Island. We read of an archaeologist conducting a dig in July 2011, then an airman shot down in 1944 during World War 2. There is the story of a painter and a little girl in September 1902, before a ghost story is recounted to some young children holidaying on the island in 1848. Finally, there is a dark Viking tale involving a vampire during the 10th century, before the telling of yet another ritual sacrifice – this time of a King and Queen – that took place during a forgotten time in the island’s past.
There are many genres and themes at work within each part of Midwinterblood. Part One initially displays elements of science fiction, before segueing into a thriller/horror plot reminiscent of The Wicker Man. The archaeological dig in Part Two is a story of discovery, perfectly placed before the espionage, drama and tragedy of a fighter pilot shot down from the sky and on the run in Part Three. Part Four is about childhood discovery, as well as friendship that transcends age. The Unquiet Grave, Part Five, tells a ghost story that is chilling and multilayered, whilst Part Six, The Vampire, is pure horror, bleak and troubling. Part Seven brings everything full circle before presenting an epilogue that is both equally sad and beautiful.
I will live seven times and I will look for you and love you in each life. Will you follow?
Midwinterblood is a tough book to review, yet an absolute pleasure to read. It takes seven seemingly separate stories and weaves them together until they become inseparable. It isn’t quite as profound and hard-hitting as White Crow was before it, but then again this is a much vaster book in both ambition and scope – characters come and go very quickly due to the fast pace and constantly shifting narrative focus. Ultimately, Eric and Merle are the real lifeblood of Midwinterblood: they transcend traditional definitions of love and in the process transcend death. Marcus Sedgwick has written a breathtaking love story with Midwinterblood that further cements him as one of the most talented authors writing for young adults today. An exquisitely executed read.
9.5 OUT OF 10
Midwinterblood was released on the 6th October 2011 and is available at all good book shops.