By Marcus Sedgwick
Published by Indigo / Orion
ISBN 978 1 78062 009 1
If you're one of the few teenage readers who haven't yet discovered Marcus Sedgwick, it's seriously time to catch up.
The author has published 11 young adult novels, all of which are clever, mysterious, original and well-plotted. Sedgwick doesn't rely on sequels or well-trodden old ground. With each of his new novels, you know you're in for a treat - another intense tale of mystery filled with Gothic shadows drawing you into the murky corridors of his imagination.
The title of his latest book, Midwinterblood, hints at the type of tale Sedgwick now tells. You'd suspect there to be a few cold chills, and you'd be right. This is not a novel for someone wanting a rosy and cheerful read.
We are in the year 2073. Eric Seven, a journalist, arrives at a small, isolated island to investigate a mysterious rumour that people here never age and never have any children. He has barely set foot on Blessed Island when he meets a young woman called Merle. He falls instantly in love with her. But there's a feeling of dark menace all around.
Something is not quite right. Why are the people of Blessed Island so eager to welcome Eric? Why does he suddenly begin sleeping such long hours and have terrible nightmares?
Soon, Eric makes a frightening realisation. He has been to Blessed Island before. In fact, he has lived here many times in many past lives.
After 13 short and intense chapters, Midwinterblood moves back in time to 2011, where another story begins. Intrigue slowly builds as each section of the novel drags the reader further back in time to a seemingly different short story.
An archaeologist digs up the bones of a child and an adult in an ancient grave. A second world war airman is shot down onto Blessed Island in the 1940s. A famous artist paints a dramatic and darkly symbolic mural. An undead Viking rises from the grave.
Finally, Midwinterblood ends up in an unidentified era when a chieftain has to offer a sacrifice of blood to save his island from famine.
About halfway through the book, the reader realises that these seven stories in Midwinterblood are somehow all connected. By the time we get to the end, everything has become clear. Eric and Merle have indeed lived on Blessed Island many times in the past.
Only a writer as clever and daring as Sedgwick could pull off a work with the intriguing structural complexity of Midwinterblood.
All the different sections of the novel deliver an atmosphere of mystery and dread, yet each has a mood of its own. Midwinterblood is a gripping novel that is told economically and, at times, beautifully. It's a powerful book, rich in mystery and emotion, and will almost certainly be like nothing you have read before.
The book is a tour de force of atmosphere and storytelling. If you want something extraordinary, you need to look no further.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com