Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick is a lyrical, haunting book which I devoured in a single night. It was shelved in the science fiction/fantasy section of my local bookstore, but the novel really defies genre. It’s more in keeping with the Gabriel Garcia Marquez tradition of magical realism than the stereotypical pulp fiction often found in the sci-fi aisle.
I love narratives that challenge the linear nature of time and push at the edges of everyday reality, especially when they incorporate beautiful language and recurring motifs. This novel does all that and more.
Set on the same island in seven different time periods, the novel explores the themes of love and sacrifice as it weaves together characters who recur in different iterations and permutations. “I might be lots of people […] Why do I have to be just one? I am lots of people and I love all of the and they love me.”
Sedgewick drew inspiration from a painting in the Swedish National Gallery called Midvinterblot (Wikipedia link here). His vivid description of the painting and the way he brought its narrative to life inspired me to research it further. This passage from the book echoes its real-life reception, which relegated it to the dust-heap of history until almost a century after its creation:
“Sacrifice. That’s a somewhat… outdated… notion, isn’t it? In this modern world?”
“Outdated?” echoed Eric. Suddenly, he felt very old. He felt that he didn’t understand.
“The theme is old, but not outdated,” he explained, feeling bewildered. “And it refers to the island, whose very name is written in blood!”
“Really?” said one of the men.
“Indeed. People think the name of this island means ‘blessed,’ and so it does, but ‘blessed’ does not mean what people think it does. In the old tongue it was blestian and before that blotsian, and before that, just blod. It means sacrifice.”
“To bless means to sacrifice, and in blood.”
There is a pause. A long pause.
Then, “Good. Well, thank you for your time here today, Mr. Carlsson.”
With that they left.
[ NOTE: This review was originally published at Goodreads on 7/18/2014. ]