by Marcus Sedgwick is a young adult fantasy novel following seven intertwining stories spanning several centuries. Published in 2013, the book received numerous accolades including A Publisher’s Weekly
Best Children’s Book of 2013 and a Kirkus Reviews
Best Teen Book of 2013.
The first story, “Midsummer Sun,” follows journalist Eric Seven in 2073 as he journeys to a remote Scandinavian community called Blessed Island where people live extraordinary lifespans. While there, he falls in love with a woman named Merle who seems oddly familiar. He also immediately dislikes an old man named Tor, even though the man has given him no reason to be disliked. During an exploration of the island, Eric finds the rumored flower that gives the locals their long life. Tor and the other islanders find him, take him prisoner, and consider sacrificing him to the gods. The situation seems too familiar to Eric.
In “The Archeologist,” an archeologist named Edward travels to Blessed Island in 2011 to excavate the ruins of a Viking village. He has difficulty finding the location until local teenager Eric tells him where to dig for a tomb, where Edward finds two skeletons. Edward feels like he has known Eric and his mother Merle for a long time.
“The Airman” follows WWII pilot David as he is shot down over Blessed Island in 1944. David breaks his ankle during the crash landing and is taken in by farmer Erik and his wife Rebecka. They care for him as David’s ankle heals, but they are not welcoming to a soldier. They dislike war greatly. Later, when soldiers arrive on the island to find David, Erik helps him escape but is killed in the process.
In “The Painter,” Merle is a young girl living on Blessed Island in 1902. Her mother makes a special tea out of the dragon flowers that grow on the far side of the island. When she accompanies her mother to harvest the flowers, she spots a large house inhabited by a very old man. Her mother warns her not to visit the house, but Merle secretly goes and meets artist Eric Carlsson. The two become good friends as Merle convinces Eric to finish a huge painting called “Midwinterblood.”
It is 1848 in “The Unquiet Grave” as the Graf twins listen to a bedtime story from their nanny Laura. Two lovers Erik and Merle come from opposite backgrounds—Merle from a wealthy family and Erik a poor fisherman. When their romance is exposed and Merle’s father won’t let them be together, Erik commits suicide. Distraught, Merle visits his grave every day until her increasing madness convinces her that if she turns herself into a hare, they can be together again. She acquires and drinks a potion to turn into a hare, but is shot by a hunter as she sleeps over the grave. At the end of the story, Laura reveals herself as the ghost of Erik, whose name was actually Erika.
In “The Vampire,” an old woman in the tenth century named Melle recalls a strange story that happened to her and her twin brother Eirik when they were ten years old. Returning from a Viking voyage, their father brings a stranger who is their Uncle Tor. Tor claims that Melle and Eirik are his children and that the man they thought was their father is infertile. Tor had been killed in a fight but, instead of dying, rises from the grave every night to search for his children. Eirik agrees to go with Tor, who crawls back into his grave with the boy for eternity.
The final story “Midwinterblood” takes place before written history. After years of drought, failed crops, and sacrifices made to end the misery, a kingdom has decided to sacrifice its king, King Eirikr. Before he is killed, Eirikr comforts his sobbing wife, Queen Melle and tells her he will live seven more lives. He begs her to find him in those lives.
Back in 2073, Eric Seven is on a table about to be sacrificed by the Islanders, when Merle rescues him. They make a run for it but are both caught. They share a moment, remembering their previous lives together before they are both sacrificed.
Rare for a novel, Midwinterblood
is told in reverse chronological order as it connects the seven stories together. Interwoven between the stories are themes of love, loss, rebirth, and sacrifice. The book also explores the timelessness of folklore and mythology as one story affects the other over the haunting, remote location of Blessed Island. Each short story follows a different genre to add variety to the narrative. Some have gothic horror elements while others are a straightforward mystery or love story. The book has drawn comparisons to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas
, another novel spanning centuries of time.