Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
This is a rather different kind of YA novel. The cover of the hardback, would have you believe it’s full of blood, and possibly vampires. Blood, yes – and there is a part with a vampire, but in reality the paperback’s cover with hares leaping around the red moon (below), gives a better flavour of the story. That’s not to say that this is not a dark book though…
Midwinterblood is a story cycle of seven tales spanning the centuries, all linked by the setting and named for the moon’s folkloric phases, Hunter’s moon etc. It is told in reverse chronology; starting sixty years into the future, and from there travelling back to the present day, and then leaps of around half a century, until the 6th and 7th stories which delve back much further into the days of the Viking sagas. With each step back in time, we learn more about the ancient roots of the stories which lead up to the first story, which is revisited in an epilogue.
It starts with a young journalist, Eric, visiting an island in the far north, known as the Blessed Isle, investigating a rumour that its people live forever. He lands at the jetty:
Eric Seven does not believe in love at first sight.
He corrects himself.
Even in that moment, the moment that 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.
‘Of course you are,’ he says. Inside, he makes a note to punish himself later for such a lame reply, and yet, he had not said it with arrogance, or even an attempt at being funny. He said it as if someone else was saying it for him.
Eric soon discovers that he’s not really welcome on the island. Tor, their leader is unfailingly polite, but sinister underneath. Only Merle is on his side – he feels as if he’s known her forever …
The other stories tell the stories of other incarnations of Eric and Merle and how they find and lose each other over they ages. They are enchanting in whatever form they appear including as twins, and mother and son. There are many other recurring motifs including black tea, hares, there is an important painting – and of course, the island’s secret. (NB: If you plan to read this book, you may choose not to examine the painting at the bottom of this post too closely. It provided Sedgwick’s inspiration for this novel.)
This novel is probably Sedgwick’s most grown-up book yet. Although primarily aimed at a teenaged audience, it’s main characters although young, are not children. The cyclical nature of the narrative, and the slow reveal may not be to all younger reader’s taste, but I relished it. It’s dreamy and contemplative, yet it is very dark – there’s an undercurrent of horror swirling around in the mists and eddies of this island.
I would love to see Sedgwick win the Carnegie Medal this year with this book, but I fear that it is brooding and atmospheric, it is almost too adult in its prose style – I loved it though. (9/10)
* * * * *
I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Midwinterbloodby Marcus Sedgwick, Orion Children’s paperback.