Here is my promised post on Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick. This is my first pick of the year as a serious Printz contender.
Well, the style and form are unique and fascinating. The book is made up of seven sections, plus an epilogue. The first begins in 2073, when a journalist named Eric Seven travels to a remote northern island called Blessed, where he meets a woman named Merle and learns about a flowers called the blessed dragon orchid.
The successive sections move back in time–2011, 1944, 1902, 1848, 10th century, “time unknown,” with the epilogue returning to 2073. The stories are different, but connected by the place, and by words, ideas, themes, motifs: characters named (some version of) Eric and Merle; the number 7; dragons; blood; sacrifice; the moon; hares. There’s more, too. I have the sense that if I went back and read it again, I would find even more motifs that connect the sections.
Even the name of the island is not as simple as it appears. We learn that although it is called “Blessed” or “Blest,” it was once “Bletsian” and before that “Blotsian” from the word “Blot” or blood. As one character says, “To bless means to sacrifice. And in blood.” This, by the way, is true, according to the OED. The original meaning of “to bless” was “to make sacred or holy with blood.”
This is a hard book to talk about. While it doesn’t have a plot, as such, it does propel the reader forward (backward?) as we see how the past times are connected with the story that begins in the future.
The writing, as always with Sedgwick, is lovely. And always, those connections. Let me quote a brief portion of the 1944 section:
“Hovering between life and death, the airman’s dreams are as twisted and broken as his fighter plane, which still smokes on a hillside a mile away. . . . He groans in his sleep, and thrashes wildly, disturbing the hare that has been sitting nearby, watching him, wide eyes blinking in the near moonless night. Finally, as he wakes in the early daylight, he dreams he’s being eaten by a dragon.” Just in a few words, we have a hare, a dragon, the moon, light (another motif I didn’t mention earlier), and dreams (another repeating motif). See what I mean?
I suspect that one of the challenges Midwinterblood may face this year in the awards discussion arena is that it doesn’t actually present itself as a YA book. The characters, for the most part, are not teens, and it doesn’t shout “YA” in any way. I do think, however, that teens will be drawn to it, to the mystery, to the hints of horror, to the theme of sacrifice. The tagline on the British editions is “What would you sacrifice for someone you’ve loved for ever?” and that in itself, besides the intriguing cover art in all of the various editions, will draw teens in. I’ll be interested to hear how it circulates in your library and others.
As for me, it’s a top book of the year so far. Have you had a chance to read it yet?