REVIEW - Marcus Sedgewick
N.B.: This review will contain SPOILERS for both books.
My Swordhand is Singing: ***** (5 stars)
The Kiss of Death: **** (4.5 stars)
Brief reasons for ratings: I felt that The Kiss of Death lacks some of the fear factor of My Swordhand is Singing, and does not have so strong a sense of locational horror, which I particularly enjoyed in the first novel. My Swordhand is Singing is one of the best YA horror novels that I have read in years, and takes enough from historical stories to fit in well with tales of vampire/werewolf history (the legend of Peter Stumpp, for example) while bringing a very fresh originality to the table.
YA Fiction fans, Vampire enthusiasts.
I have recently read both My Swordhand is Singing, and it's follow-up, The Kiss of Death, by Marcus Sedgewick, and quite frankly, I am a little blown away.
Set in the 1700s and 1800s respectively, these books both feature a boy and girl, and their encounters with vampires and 'The Shadow Queen'.
A writer with an exceptionally clear 'voice' and style, part of the eerie nature of these stories is the almost journalistic distance with which Sedgewick writes, as if observing the characters completely impartially. This is not to say that the tales are unemotional, rather, that there is a bleakness reminiscent of the everyday cruelty associated with earlier historical times, where children regularly experienced horrors we would shudder at, and learned to disassociate themselves as necessary. All four main characters -Peter and Sophia from My Swordhand is Singing and Marko and Sorrel from The Kiss of Death- have absent or troubled parents, and both Marko and Peter have taken up the role of provider and 'man of the house' for their families, which then naturally leads into an unsurprising ability to take charge even in the unusual (read: vampire) supernatural events of the books.
These books are very much a return to the 'original horror' of Nosferatu by Franz Murnau, and it seems inconceivable that movie rights should not have already been optioned for at least one of the books. Set in both a small village/forest in Eastern Europe and Venice, Italy respectively, Sedgewick has chosen atmospheric, gothic locations that ground the story and add a host of creepy details to the plot ( my favorite moments include chases through the woods at night, small village mob scenes, maliciously anonymous carnivale masks and plague island bacchanalia, to name but a few).
Move over, Dracula- the blood is no longer the life. Sedgewick very specifically moves away from the sexuality of the vampire and the carnal/bloody/bestial/fetish themes that have previously dominated and even characterized Vampire film and fiction. Instead of focusing on the reproductive/sexual bite and transformation, Sedgewick prefers to dwell on the dead/zombie vampire as a prisoner of evil who's soul has been consumed by evil. Key to the fact that they are referred to as 'hostages', Sedgewick updates the Renfield syndrome with a modern/terrorism slant that is more in touch for current audiences than the original Dracula's insidious immigrant issues and xenophobia. Both Sedgewick and Stoker are clearly men of their times, and it is interesting to see how this may be (subconsciously?) conveyed within their books.
The final fact that struck me in reading these books is Sedgewick's intelligence. Impossible to avoid, and reliably present in both novels, these books have thrillingly intricate plots and sympathetically human lead characters who are grounded in a detailed yet edgily fantastical reality. Although these books are rooted strongly enough in myth to imply a general direction for each novel, Sedgewick still manages to provide enough realistic twists and turns (and hidden pathways!) within the stories that it seems preferable to skip analytical reading on the first pass, and simply 'go with the flow' and enjoy the (goose-bump inducing!) ride.
Especially recommended for those seeking to expand their knowledge of vampire literature, and YA readers who like a clever, chilling read.