Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dragons And Hares

Hello all.  Shall we ramble today?  Ok good.  Today we ramble about Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick.  I saved it until now because the title hinted that it would be a winter book...which it really wasn't...but that's not really important.  The book was different, both in a good and bad way, but we will get to that momentarily.  Now that I have thoroughly confused you, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
The book is divided into sevenish parts all connected by an underlying story.  I will give you a quick recap in parts 'cause I think that will be the least confusing.  I realize that in the book the names Merle and Eric are used in different forms but to try and minimize some confusion I will use just the simple version of their names for all the stories.

Midsummer Sun - This first story takes place in 2027 and Eric Seven, a journalist has traveled to the island of Blest to explore rumors of a dragon orchid that gives eternal life.  He is greeted on the docks by a friendly group of people including a young woman by the name of Merle.  Eric feels an immediate connection with Merle that he cannot explain.  As the days go by, Eric starts to forget his purpose.  This changes when a note from Merle sends him to the other side of the island.  There he finds a chapel like structure, a painting and a huge field of the dragon orchids.  Eric is taken by the islanders and strapped to a stone table to become a sacrifice to bring back children to the island.  Turns out that using the orchids will give you eternal life, but make children impossible.

The Archaeologist - This story takes place in 2011.  An archaeologist and his young team have gotten permission to do some digging on the Isle of Blest.  He is frustrated as he seems to be getting no where and his funding and time are just about up.  A local young man, with apparent mental deficiencies by the name of Eric points out a specific mound and the archaeologist having nothing else to go on digs.  Turns out Eric was right and a cairn containing the bones of an adult male and child are found.  An unexploded bomb from a previous war is also found, and Eric exhibiting super strength dumps it into the ocean.  The archaeologist meets Eric's mom, who is named Merle and after learning Eric's story decides to stay with them on the island.

The Airman -  This story takes place in 1944 and features and airman with a daughter by the name of Merle back in the states.  The airman crashes on the Isle of Blest and is reluctantly taken in by a family on the island.  The head of the family is a man named Eric.  The family uses a special tea, made of the dragon orchids to help heal the airman.  They help him escape as soldiers come looking for him, Eric being shot to death as he distracts them from the airmans escape.

The Painter - This story is set in 1902.  Here we meet a woman and her young daughter Merle who regularly collect the dragon orchid and use it in its many forms to help the people of the island of Blest.  Merle is warned to not go near the chapel like house on the Western side of the island.  She ignores this warning and goes to collect apples, leaving one at the door of the mysterious house.  Eventually we learn that the house was built by a famous painter who no longer paints.  The painter is name Eric and he eventually befriends Merle and her mother.  He finally finishes his painting, a scene of an ancient Viking king on his way to be sacrificed to bring the crops back to his island. Eric dies as the painting is finished, putting the young Merle in the painting as his last act.

The Unquiet Grave - In 1848 a young woman tells a pair of young children who are visiting the Isle of Blest a story.  The story is a tale of forbidden love between the rich merchants daughter Merle and the fisherman Eric.  Merle's father is vehemently opposed to the match and convinces Eric to go away.  He kills himself and Merle goes slowly mad over his grave.  She convinces herself that a hare she see's is Eric and finds a witch to give her a potion to become a hare as well.  She apparently turns but is instantly killed by a hunter.   When the children go to tell their parents about the story, the parents are confused as the woman was not supposed to be there yet.  The real young woman then say's that the story in a different form is known on the island.  In the real story Eric is Erikka and the love was forbidden for a different reason.  Turns out the girl telling the story was the ghost of Erikka.

The Vampire - 10th century on the Isle of Blest shows us Merle old and telling us a story.  In this tale Merle and Eric are twins who are the children of the chief.  The chief comes back from raiding and a strange man is with him.  Turns out the man is named Tor and he is the brother of the chief.  He claims that because the chief uses the dragon flowers he can not father children and that the twins are actually his.  He claims them and is killed when he tries to fight the chief for them.  After Tor is buried, vicious attacks start happening, with animals and people getting their throats ripped out.  A specter of Tor appears and says he will continue killing until he gets his children.  Eric decides to go with Tor to his grave to save Merle and the attacks end.

Midwinterblood - Time unknown.  This story pretty much tells us what is happening in the painting from previous stories.  A king by the name of Eric is going to be willingly sacrificed to hopefully bring about a good harvest to the island which is slowly starving.  The king is on his third wife, a pretty young thing by the name of Merle who is not so keen on her king dying.  He tells her that he will come back for seven lives to find her and then he is killed.  The sacrifice apparently works and the harvest is good.  The islanders decide to cut back on the dragon orchid stuff so that they can start having kids again and the island prospers.

Epilogue - Here we go back to the beginning of the book.  Merle gets Eric free and they flee.  Unfortunately they are both caught and taken back to the place of sacrifice.  The islanders have not had a new child in many years and they are hoping that a blood sacrifice will change this.  Eric has some sort of understanding of his past lives and tells Merle that he is ready to die for a final time and both he and Merle are killed.
World Building - The world was a small one, focusing almost exclusively on this mysterious island in the far north.  I felt that it was well done, I am pretty sure that I could find my way around the island if I ever found it.  The basic feel of the place and its people was pretty complete and I felt the island itself was a sort of character tying the stories together...so yeah, pretty good job with such a limited scope.

Story - Hmmm...so....I really loved the idea of this story, a circle of time in which everything had something to do with the story before and after it.  In someways the author was successful at this, there were elements that definitely tied everything together...but in other ways I felt that there were just way to many threads.  It felt like the author had 1000 ideas and used all of them instead of just focusing on a few really strong ones.  I also was not a huge fan of the supposed impetuous for the whole story.  I did not get a strong love vibe between the king and his queen, it felt like "hey your hot and your crying so I'll make you a promise 'cause yeah I can" instead of two people who loved each other so much they could transcend time to find each other again, it kind of made the whole story eh.  I also was not thrilled with the ending.  They both just decide to die?  With no real connecting in any of their other lives, they find each other and then die?  What was the point?  Essentially I feel the same way about this story as I felt about watching Lost, I was hooked and intrigued, but then too much got shoved in without any real reason.

Character - This is a toughie 'cause really the only real consistent "characters" where supposedly Merle and Eric...but as they changed so drastically through out each story I really never got to know them.  They appeared not only as different types of people, but they had a different relationship in each story as well.  Getting to know them as mother and son, is way different then brother and sister which is way different then lovers, which is way different then...well  you get the idea.  So really there was no consistent character to get to know and identify with.

Editing - The book was well edited.  It flowed fairly well and for the most part made as much sense as a story like this will.  The feel of the book was consistent.  So really no major issues in the editing department. The only real thing I would have done as an editor was to try and get the author to focus a bit more and not try and shove every story line, object or myth that came to mind into the book...seriously save some idea's for later.

Eric and Merle Timeline - One of the things I had questions about in this book was the whole time line of Eric and Merle.  There were many times that according to the timeline of the book, either or both Eric and Merle would have been alive at the same time as their other life counterparts...does that make sense?  Essentially there would be two incarnations of Merle or Eric alive at the same time.  I never quit got how that fit in with the multiple lives thing.  Was this on purpose, is it possible, was it an editing thing, a convince thing?

Relationships - One of the main things in this book was relationships.  We saw pretty much every form of relationship one could imagine in this book, and not just between Merle and Eric.  We saw lovers, parents, siblings, friends, enemies, strangers, individuals, pairs, groups, families, it was kind of cool in some ways to see how many ways a person could be connected to another.  I know a lot of people had an issue with Merle and Eric not always being lovers, but I thought it was an interesting concept of two people exploring a relationship in many different ways.  I thought as long as the loving thread was there it worked for me.  The only one that did not make a whole lot of sense was in the airman where they did not even inhabit the same area, much less meet.  I also noticed Eric in each life sacrificed himself for Merle in some way shape or form continuing that part of their relationship...I just wished I believed in it more.

Genre - Oddly enough this book is usually marketed as a young adult book.  I do not know how it really falls into that category.  That is not to say some teenagers would not enjoy it or get it, just I don't think that YA is the primary audience.  The book itself is very vague and symbolismy and not really something that a young person would identify with.  The vast majority of the characters are adults and parents at that, they deal with mature adult problems and there is not a whole lot a young person would identify with.  I would put it more in the fantasy, alternate history, novel style genre, not YA.

Painting - Interesting fact, the painting in the book is actually based on a real painting called Midvinterblot painted by Carl Larsson and has its own interesting story behind it.

Overall Impression - I wanted to like this book better then I did.  It started off really strong, but each story seemed to have less and less connection with the original story and the pay off was not worth it to me.  I did not get a sense of genuine connection between the two main characters and I feel that is what was needed to really drive the thread of all the stories.  I also felt that it was to cluttered and distracting with so many little tidbits and storylines that seemed shoved in to be totally immersed in the world.  The idea itself was very cool, and the writing is very good so I might pick up another of the authors books based on that.  I give the book 6 out of 10 hares.

Happy Reading Everybody!

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