Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Review: White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
It's summer. Rebecca is an unwilling visitor to Winterfold - taken from the buzz of London and her friends and what she thinks is the start of a promising romance. Ferelith already lives in Winterfold - it's a place that doesn't like to let you go, and she knows it inside out - the beach, the crumbling cliff paths, the village streets, the woods, the deserted churches and ruined graveyards, year by year being swallowed by the sea. Against her better judgement, Rebecca and Ferelith become friends, and during that long, hot, claustrophobic summer they discover more about each other and about Winterfold than either of them really want to, uncovering frightening secrets that would be best left long forgotten. Interwoven with Rebecca and Ferelith's stories is that of the seventeenth century Rector and Dr Barrieux, master of Winterfold Hall, whose bizarre and bloody experiments into the after-life might make angels weep, and the devil crow.
When you pick up a new Marcus Sedgwick book you never know what to expect from the author as he has become a master of surprises and loves to keep his readers guessing as to what twist or turn his story will take next. And yet again he took this reader completely by surprise - this book was totally different from what I had expected, and all the better for it.
The story is told from three different points of view. There is Rebecca, daughter of a policeman who has taken the pair of them off to a small seaside town for the summer; we are not initially informed what he is trying to escape from, but this is revealed as the story progresses. Next there is Ferelith, a seemingly friendless, and certainly eccentric local girl who appears to be very keen to befriend Rebecca, a notion that the new girl in town initially resists. The third voice is one from the past, written as the journal of the local rector back in the 17th Century. For me the story as told by the two girls flowed well, with tantalising snippets of information being revealed as the story progressed. However, even though it sometimes interrupted the flow of the modern day story, the Rector's journal is the device that really got my mind whirring, and made me start trying to fill in pieces of the main story, often with an intense feeling of creeping dread.
This is one hell of a creepy story, but not the kind that will necessarily appeal to fans of the more gory aspects of horror. Although there are some bloody moments, the real scares in this book are purely psychological, so if you like your horror to really play on the primal fears that lay buried deep in your mind then this book is most definitely for you. And the character of Ferelith is one of the principle causes for this. Right from the first time we meet her we know there is something not quite right about her; her mind obviously does not work in quite the same way as your average teenage girl's, but these differences, that initially seem like eccentricities, soon had me knowing that she is not the kind of person I would like to turn my back on. This strangeness in her personality adds a wonderful amount of suspense to the story, as we constantly wonder whether Rebecca is actually safe in her company. In addition to this her character also ensures that element of unpredictability that I so love in Marcus Sedgwick's storytelling.
To say much more would be to give too much away about this story. It is a dark gothic mystery, with an intelligence that will really make you think. It requires reading in as few sittings as possible, but maybe not when you are alone on a dark cold night; if you do then you may not get much sleep that night - elements of this story played on my mind and entered my dreams for some days after I finished it, and even now, some time later, writing this review has brought back some slightly uncomfortable memories of the truly chilling ending to the story: Ferelith is a character that could haunt me for some time to come.