March 24, 2014

Review: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Published: 2013, Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Library
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His attention snaps back to the present, and he thinks how far the world has come in a thousand years, how the island has changed in that time. And what will it be like in another thousand years? People, most people, always assume that civilization steadily increases, that the world improves, becomes more peaceful, and it very often does. But if there’s one thing he’s learned in his days as an archaeologist, it’s that this is not always the case. Sometimes, when civilization falters, sometimes, things become more primitive again. More primitive, and more violent.

As soon as ALA announced that Midwinterblood had won the 2014 Printz Award, I immediately placed a hold on the title with my local library. This was a title I’d been interested in reading previously, but had just never got around to actually obtaining a copy. The excuse to finally read it, therefore, was much appreciated.

Midwinterblood is not a typical, cohesive story; rather, it is a series of seven vignettes told over a period of thousands of years in the history of the Scandinavian isle of Blessed. Besides the recurring location, each story is also tied together through two of its characters: a male whose name is Eric (or a variant thereof) and a female named Merle (or a variant thereof). Eric and Merle’s meetings form the focal point of each story, as well as the focal point of the novel as a whole.

Sedgwick arranges the vignettes in a reverse chronology. The first vignette, titled “Midsummer Sun,” takes place in 2073 and recounts journalist Eric Seven’s trip to Blessed Island, an island where its inhabitants are rumored to live forever. The inhabitants (including a woman named Merle) welcome Eric with open arms and are the most accommodating of hosts, providing him with their special tea made from the Little Blessed Dragon Orchid, perhaps at the very center of the island’s mysteries. Although Eric is enjoying his time there, he cannot help but feel as though something is not quite right, as if there’s some greater meaning he needs to unlock, if only he can remember how.

The other vignettes take place in 2011, 1944, 1902, 1848, 10th century, and an unknown older time. Of them all, the two most important are the final one and first one. The first one sets readers up for the mystery that is the isle of Blessed, and the hold that is has upon all the Erics and Merles throughout time. And the last one provides some answers at long last.

In a way, reading Midwinterblood is like putting together a large puzzle. Each vignette gives clues about purpose and message of the overall story, but it is not until readers have made their way through all the vignettes that they can really understand everything. Any answers are slow in coming, as the vignettes record the moments leading up to an Eric and a Merle meeting, but little more than that. No answers are spoon-fed to characters or readers. It is only through the final story - and the brief epilogue following - that the story turns full-circle and readers discover the full ramifications of Eirikr and Melle’s actions from a time long ago.

This is an incredibly literary novel. Sedgewick is a masterful writer, for the story, which appears to be stylistically simple, accrues greater and greater depth as the vignettes continue. Little details from previous stories become recurring themes. Each and every word in this short novel is meaningful. It’s a novel I can see being even better understood upon a re-read, although there’s nothing like blindly putting all the pieces together for a first read.

As much as I really enjoyed what Sedgwick does with his story stylistically and thematically, I do think it fell prey to some of the traditional pitfalls of short stories: namely, I didn’t get the chance to feel properly invested in any singular story. They are too brief for any emotional attachment to occur. But maybe that’s part of the novel’s greater point. Lives and individual events are fleeting, but there’s always the hope that they’re part of something better, of something significant.

I will say I am surprised that this is considered to be written for a young adult audience. The vast majority of the characters are adults, and the many themes feel more apt for an older audience. I’d be curious to read about the publisher’s (and ALA’s) rationale in marketing this for teens.

I don’t want to say much more, because this is the sort of books readers should go into with fairly few expectations. Midwinterblood is a beautifully haunting series of tales. It’s the sort of story that makes readers work to figure it out. But the ultimate story it tells - of loss, hope, and love - is one worth reading.

Rating: 4 stars

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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Amanda!! (: I've heard Midwinter blood is a good book, up until now I haven't read the synopsis. Now you've got me all into it and bumping it up on my to read list.!! Wonderful review (:


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