This latest Young Adult novel from Marcus Sedgwick has a most unusual plot construction, and is a departure from his previous works where the narrative follows a more conventional curve. Also the fantasy element is slighter. There is a stronger sense of realism and mystery combined with an atmosphere of timeless myth and atavistic superstition, which gradually draws the reader in.
The book is divided into seven parts plus an epilogue, each part taking place in a different period on the same fictional island, The Blessed Island, set somewhere in the far north, in the land of the 'Midnight Sun', where the language is English but appears to have developed, like island customs, from old Norse and Icelandic traditions. Apart from this and the setting, the only fantasy elements here are the climate - the summers are so warm that wheat and fruit grow plentifully – and a magic flower called the Little Blessed Dragon Orchid which grows profusely all over the Western half of the island, but not the Eastern. Tea brewed from this flower has all kinds of amazing properties, some beneficial, others sinister. There is also a supernatural element in that the protagonist has seven lives, each corresponding with one part of the book. Other characters also reappear in each section, under slightly different names.
Part one is set in the future, June 2073. While the other six sections are flashbacks, they do not appear in chronological order. Part two takes place in the present day, in July 2011, then the other parts regress in time while the months go forward: August 1944, September 1902, October 1848, and the tenth century. The seventh and final part is set in 'Time Unknown'. The epilogue returns the reader to the end of the first section, in June 2073. In each month the moon has a different name, from Flower Moon in the first part, to Blood Moon in the seventh part, when a lunar eclipse turns it red.
The tale that weaves through the whole is a love story, in which the two lovers meet and part again and again. But underlying this is the sinister theme of blood sacrifice, in which I find subtle echoes of D.H. Lawrence's long short story, ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’, and of the 1973 cult film, The Wickerman. The author tells us in the acknowledgements that this theme was partly inspired by a painting in a museum in Stocholm called Midvinterblot, Swedish for midwinter sacrifice. A similar painting by a fictitious painter, one of the protagonist's seven different selves, is described in Part Four. Sedgwick is a past master at evoking sinister undercurrents that flow beneath apparently tranquil and harmonious beauty, and he has excelled himself here.