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Book Review – My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

December 11, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Description:

In a bitter winter, Tomas and his son, Peter, settle in a small village as woodcutters. Tomas digs a channel of fast-flowing waters around their hut so that they have their own little island kingdom. Peter doesn’t understand why his father has done this, or why his father carries a long, battered box, whose mysterious contents he is forbidden to know.

But Tomas is a man with a past—a past that is tracking him with deadly intent. As surely as the snow falls softly in the forest of a hundred thousand silver birch trees, father and son must face a soulless enemy and a terrifying destiny.

*

My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick is a wonderfully dark & chilling addition to vampire-lore fiction. And thank goodness, there’s nary a whiff of emo-Vampires or teen love triangles with other supernatural beings. Or even the mention of the word ‘vampire’. Instead, Marcus Sedgwick brings us back to the earliest vampire legends and the early reports of vampirism in Europe.

The setting for the novel is the dead of winter at an Eastern European village (most likely in Transylvania as mentioned in the author notes) during the early seventeenth century. Peter (and his father Tomas) are woodcutters who have recently taken a break from their nomadic life to settle near the village of Chust. Peter is a hardworking and likeable young teenager who unfortunately doesn’t have a very happy life. He has a strained relationship with his father, which had been marred by Tomas’ excessive drinking, violence, and secret past, including a mysterious wooden box (the contents of which is kept forbidden from Peter). The young man is also treated as an outsider and distrusted by the villagers in Chust.

When the village is beset by the mysterious deaths of men and livestock, together with terrifying instances of reanimations of the dead, Peter teams up with a young visiting Gypsy girl (Sofia) and discovers the secrets his father has kept from him, including an ancient evil that has resurfaced to threaten all their lives.

I really liked Marcus Sedgwick’s take on the vampire mythology. The pace of the book does start a bit slowly, but I felt that the groundwork added to the sinister and disturbing atmosphere. I found it an easy read, with me devouring the (admittedly short) book in an afternoon. The author has a way of writing that’s very minimalistic and stark, and yet descriptive enough that I could clearly visualize the setting and the villagers. I also appreciated the author’s use of legends and superstitions in the story (the haunting Miorita song, the pretty dreadful idea of a Wedding of the Dead, the gypsy practices, and the Shadow Queen/Winter King lore) that I thought added an authentic ‘flavoring’ to the period covered in the novel.

Special mention goes to the dysfunctional father-son relationship covered in the book – I found it heartbreaking that Peter continued to love his father inspite of all Tomas’ faults, neglect and abuse, so I really took to heart that Tomas was given the opportunity to have some redemption and be a hero in his son’s eyes when the story reached its climax.

I highly recommend this book to all lovers of historical fiction and the supernatural – it’s geared to the young reader crowd, but it’s still scary and interesting enough (not to mention extremely well-written) to satisfy those in the older age groups.

My Swordhand Is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick is available on Amazon as a Kindle Edition ($5.59), Hardcover ($15.99), or Mass Market Paperback ($6.99).

Also available on B&N Nook, Sony eBookstore, Kobo Books.

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