It is my great delight to review Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood, not only because it is the 2014 Printz Award winner for excellence in YA literature, but because it is the first book in a long while that I am reading solely for my own enjoyment, not for an assignment. Ahhhh, can you hear that luxurious sigh?
The book opens in 2073 with journalist Eric Seven flying to Blessed Island to write a feature about this mysterious place where people are said to live forever, the result of a particularly potent orchid. There, he meets Merle and falls in love with her at first sight, but the island keeps its secrets, and a sacrifice must be made; as he is pinned down on a sacrificial altar, Eric realizes he’s experienced this before. From then on, each section of Midwinterblood travels backwards through time, from WWII to the 10th century to the earliest days of the island, simply designated as “time unknown,” revealing the very first lifetime and death that began it all.
For a love story that transcends the barriers of time and death, Midwinterblood is darker than might initially seem. Blood sacrifice, famine, infertility, and betrayal fill the pages. Yet the writing itself is lyrical and haunting and, in its way, lovely. Each section is written slightly differently, whether from a different point of view or even through chapter conventions, yet they all come together seamlessly, woven with recurring characters and motifs to provide continuity. That continuity is an amazing feat in a story that begins like science fiction, detours through WWII, and involves both Vikings and a vampire.
Midwinterblood has vivid, visceral imagery that will linger long after the book is closed, but the journey there is a fast one with very short chapters that keep the pages turning and characters that don’t feel as young as other young adult protagonists, making this a good crossover for adult readers. The closest blend of haunting, weird, and dark I’ve read has probably been Patrick Ness’s More Than This, another excellent YA novel.