Book review: ‘Midwinter Blood,’ by Marcus Sedgwick
Special to the Daily
In a distant land, where the sun never sets and time seems to stand still, author Marcus Sedgwick plants the seeds of a love story, one spanning several generations and encompassing a timeless mythology.
This is the fascinating premise of his recent novel, “Midwinter Blood.” Told in reverse time, beginning in the not-too-distant future and flowing backwards through millennia, this haunting story unfolds like a wondrous looping fairytale.
In each of the book’s seven shorter stories, the names Eric and Merle, in various variations, keep recurring, reinforcing the idea that somehow these two characters are drifting through time, engaged in an epic quest for love. The novel is inspired, in part, by Swedish artist Carl Larson’s painting “Midvinterblot,” depicting a scene from Norse mythology in which a Swedish king is offered up as a blood sacrifice to prevent a famine threatening to afflict his people. Sedgwick’s story is ethereal and mystical, but the reader senses right off that something is not right with this world, on this island, which goes by many names throughout the book’s journey through time.
Blessed Island is where it begins, with a young journalist visiting to help unravel the mysteries surrounding the island’s unique inhabitants, who never age.
The island’s location is left vague, and though a subsequent dig for Viking bones gives some hints, one realizes quickly that the obscure nature of the story is intentional, as Sedgwick weaves his tale strand by strand, never revealing too much to the reader. The effect is haunting, a bit like watching a season of “Lost,” where the appeal is primarily in the compelling puzzle that needs solving.
As the young outsider Eric’s time on the island increases, he begins to lose touch with the reasons for his visit, and the mystery of the place thickens. His mind begins to grow foggy, and he slowly slips into a daily stupor, an unexplained apathy that distracts him from his goal. Is it the island’s strange flower, an orchid, that holds the secret? Or, is there a darker, more sinister cloud hanging over the too-perfect facade of the picturesque island.
In “Twilight Zone” fashion, Sedgewick uses the layers of interwoven stories to confuse and entice the reader closer and closer to the madness that hovers beneath the cryptic utterances and baffling mysteries surrounding the inhabitants of the isolated and perplexing setting. With many pagan and gothic undertones, each new personification of Eric and Merle and Blessed Island — the name of which, through the seven tales, morphs darkly into Blood Island — lures the reader deeper into the shadows, leaving an unsettled feeling as ambiguous as the book itself.
Officially in the young adult category, “Midwinter Blood” clearly has a broader appeal. The tale is good escapism fodder for a dark night or a rainy day, when the reader doesn’t mind dabbling in the mystical realm.
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