Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Release date: 1st July 2010
Genre: Gothic Thriller, YA Fiction,
Target audience: 12+
Summary from Amazon:
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.
My heart is still racing after finishing White Crow. I think it is probably the scariest book I have ever read. I am so relieved that I was reading it under a sunny sky because if I was reading it in bed, then I would undoubtedly have had nightmares about the devil and the eternal fires of hell. I think I still might...
You may be wondering why I agreed to review a book which I am quite tempted to describe as horrfying. (That is in terms of genre rather than a shockingly bad book.) It is simple really: Marcus Sedgwick is one of my favourite authors and thus I will read anything he writes because he writes with exceptional skill and can evoke place and setting like no other contemporary YA writer.
White Crow is a mysterious novel which is told in a three-part format. There is the story of Rebecca and her father who go to spend the Summer in Winterfold. There is a feeling of constant foreboding through this part of the narrative. They appear to be running away from a hideous truth but as the reader you are not sure what that truth might be. Then there is Ferelith and she tells her parts of the story. Ferelith lives in Winterfold and has an exceptionally high level of intelligence. I personally believe in the concept of multiple intelligences. Ferelith has the type of intelligence that means she can absorb reams of information and has a slanted perspective on the world. I think she lacks emotional intelligence and is frankly a very frightening character who made my spine vibrate with fear. There is also the account of Winterfold's Priest from 1798 which tells of the arrival of a mysterious French doctor - Dr Barrieux. The Priest's journal was both fascinating and repulsive. It increased the overall sense of impending doom which tightened around my heart and had me fearing the final pages.
Perhaps I'll begin by explaining more about the Priest. He is consumed by his fear of the afterlife. He sees Hell in his dreams and imagines the many hideous ways that the damned are forced to suffer for their sins. However hard he tries, he cannot imagine the delights and beauty of Heaven. Does this perhaps indicate that he is truly a sinner? His religious zealotism is almost an obsession and he is a character that I both pitied and detested. In terms of the detail with which Sedgwick described the punishments in Pandemonium, I can honestly say he evoked within me great waves of repulsion through his grotesque imagery.
Now for Rebecca, a character with whom a share a name and thus a deep sympathy and admiration. I cannot remember the last time I read about a character with my name. I have to confess it was a little thrilling. Rebecca is trying to come to terms with something that is haunting her father. She doesn't know what to think or what to feel and it is driving a wedge between them. The worst thing being that it is a time that they really need each other. She needs to have faith and in this way you can see that this links with the Priest's story. He needs faith in God and himself. She needs faith in her father.
Then there is Ferelith and Dr Barrieux. Both are pivotal to the story yet somehow we know less about them. It makes this book incredibly gothic and it reminded me of The Story of Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde by fear inspiring master Robert Louis Stevenson. Segdwick really captured the gothic tradition through the setting of Winterfold Hall, the religious questions concering angels and devils and the icon of the white crow. Overall, another masterful novel from an author of the highest calibre. Scary? Yes. Gothic? Certainly. I highly recommend this to all readers except the faint-hearted. The plot will grip you from start to finish and will make you want to turn all the lights on. This book is the whole terrifyingly dark package!
Thanks to Orion Books for giving me the great privilege of reviewing this book.