Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

It's Carnegie Medal season folks! If you're a school librarian, like me, or a YA author, which is also like me, then it's a pretty damn exciting time of the year. I might just try and review all the shortlisted books on this blog...maybe...

Who will win? I honestly don't know, although I have a sneaky feeling that those judges might look to make history in a year of book prizes 'making history' (take a bow Hilary Mantel) and give it to Roddy Doyle. Thus far the only other shortlisted book I've read is Code Name Verity, which didn't quite do it for me.

But if the book I'm reviewing here triumphs, I'll have no complaints.

Midwinterblood is, in essence, a Cloud Atlas esque tour de force on that most human of obsessions: love. Now, before you jump to conclusions from the cover up there, let me say right now that it's nothing like Twilight or any of the sissy vampire stories that sulked out in it's wake. It is far more cerebral, well-written and absorbing than that: and it crams so much more in to a lot less space too!
The 'love' is that between its two central protagonists, Eric and Merle, across seven lifetimes, starting in an unknown distant past at a sacrificial table on the sacred island of Blessed, and ending full circle in the year 2073 with, eventually, a sacrificial table. Sedgwick begins his tale with the latter, and works his way backwards, intricately structuring and cleverly linking the seven tales/lifetimes across an enriched tapestry that would unravel in less accomplished hands.
Why does it work? Well, each narrative has a distinct voice and setting, yet stand up strongly in their own right. Yes, everyone's going to have their personal favourite (mine was 'The Airman' story, perhaps because it depicts the least ostensibly sympathetic incarnation of Eric and does more than get away with it), but I can honestly say that each story grips from the outset and only builds the anticipation for the one to follow.
Sedgwick's spare prose gives the novel a taut pace and brooding atmosphere. The timeless love of Eric and Merle transcends the wangst ideal depicted in Twilight (sorry to mention it again) to provide Midwinterblood with a devestating core that doesn't pull its emotional punches, but is unapologetically literary in its meditation on what love really means. A must read.

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