Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Year of Publication: 2011
Number of pages: 272
Awards: Printz award winner, Carnegie Medal Nominee, YALSA Top Ten (2014)
*** WARNING: THIS SYNOPSIS CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS
Synopsis: Eric Seven is a reporter traveling to the mysterious Scandinavian island of Blessed, where rumor has it that the inhabitants don’t age and there are no children. His focus for writing wanes, however, every time he consumes a cup of the tea brewed from a local plant. Though he cannot shake the feeling that the island, and specifically the young woman named Merle, are familiar to him, he is determined to write his story and return home. As he begins to investigate the untouched Western side of the island late one night, he is met by the islanders, who show him a rather gruesome fate-one that he feels he has met before. His last words, which are used many other times in the novel are, “Well, so it is.”
After this somewhat disturbing ending to part one follow six more stories, each with one character named Eric and one named Merle (with some slight variations). Each story take place in different time periods and involve the two characters in drastically different ways. In one story they are mother and son, in another they are brother and sister, and in another they are ill-fated lovers, kept apart by circumstance. All of the stories also take place on the island, and a few common elements are woven throughout: the symbol of a hare, the mysterious flower that looks like a dragon and seems to have healing properties, and the phrase, “Well, so it is.” The stories are each interesting by themselves, but it becomes clear that they have a dark underlying connection. The last part reveals the connection: in accordance with tradition, the Viking king Eirikr must be sacrificed to appease the gods when the crops have failed and all other actions have been taken. Before his death, however, Eirkr has a premonition that there are other lives for him, and in his last moments asks his wife, Melle, to follow him. Melle, devastated, agrees, and so begin their seven lives, until the last one, which is the first story told in the novel.
Commentary: This was a book I was not anticipating enjoying very much. I am not typically a fantasy reader, but am trying to read all of the recent award winners and read across genres. However, I was pleasantly surprised to not be able to put this book down, devouring it in a little over 48 hours. The sacrifice at the end of part one is unusual, and each story has a unique style, so that the divisions break up what might be monotony in other novels. The symbols provide enough familiarity to tie the stories together without re-telling the same story seven times. My one complaint with this novel was that fourth part (The Painter) gave away too much of the original story, so that I expected the very last part to be the act described in the painting. Because the ending had been spoiled for me, the emotion behind it seemed a little bit flat and cliche. I wanted a little bit more of a punch ending, similar to the ending of the first chapter.
As far as appropriateness is concerned, I would give this book to a more mature middle-schooler or a high school student. King Eirikr is naked in the last scene, but sex is alluded to at most. However, there are points where the book is dark and violently graphic, so it might not be for the more faint of heart. It would be a great read to recommend around Halloween though!