Sedgwick's (The Foreshadowing) grim, atmospheric tale, set in 17th-century Europe, brings fresh blood to the vampire mythos without once using the word "vampire." Peter and his father, Tomas, are woodcutters who travel from town to town, Tomas seemingly on the run from something. Tomas carries a wooden box, which Peter is forbidden to examine, but when word circulates through the village that sheep and cattle are being attacked and a dead man has come out of his grave, secrets from both the box and Tomas's past are revealed. The father/son dynamic is particularly well-wrought, with Tomas a violent drunk who is nonetheless a decent man, and Peter an introspective and bold youth whose budding relationship with a gypsy tempers the doom encroaching upon the village. As with the best vampire/zombie fiction, there is a note of sympathy for the creatures who, after all, never chose this "life." Several scenes have the visceral, visual impact of cinema, such as a "Wedding of the Dead," in which a young girl weds a man who has been murdered, and the villagers' painting tar on their windows to ward off evil ("Somewhere among the trees the path that led directly to God had gone astray. It had got lost among the folktales and superstitions and the hushed talk of the fireside"). Sedgwick knows his way around a gothic setting, and readers will likely devour this bone-chiller. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
My Swordhand Is Singingby Marcus Sedgwick
★ “Brings fresh blood to the vampire mythos.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred
In a bitter winter, Tomas and his son, Peter, settle in a small village as woodcutters. Tomas digs a channel of fast-flowing waters around their hut so that they have their own little island kingdom. Peter doesn’t understand why his father has/i>/i>
★ “Brings fresh blood to the vampire mythos.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred
In a bitter winter, Tomas and his son, Peter, settle in a small village as woodcutters. Tomas digs a channel of fast-flowing waters around their hut so that they have their own little island kingdom. Peter doesn’t understand why his father has done this, or why his father carries a long, battered box, whose mysterious contents he is forbidden to know.
But Tomas is a man with a past—a past that is tracking him with deadly intent. As surely as the snow falls softly in the forest of a hundred thousand silver birch trees, father and son must face a soulless enemy and a terrifying destiny.
A Junior Library Guild Selection
An ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
In this dark and spare tale, the author presents his own gothic twist on the vampire legend. Having researched hundreds of myths and much Transylvanian folklore, he has woven these elements into an interesting and satisfying story. The mood is definitely gloomy and oppressive as readers tackle such subjects as the Wedding of the Dead, where a young unmarried woman must be betrothed to a man who is murdered, requiring her to veil herself and be locked in a hut alone for forty days with no contact with the outside world. Other elements of the vampire myth, including the mysterious and frightening Shadow Queen, add to the depth of the story. In the author's note at the end we are reminded that the myth is not dead and that, in fact, in 2004 a Romanian family exhumed a relative's body to destroy it since they were convinced he was rising from the dead. While the feel of the story is gothic and dated, the dysfunctional relationship between father and son is timeless and particularly well done. Reviewer: Kathryn Erskine
Gr 6 Up The "Miorita" is a song of death, and its meaning is hidden throughout this novel of gothic superstitions and ghastly murders that's set amid the desolate, wintry forest of early-17th-century Eastern Europe. Tomas, a churlish sot, a woodcutter by trade, and his gentle teenage son, Peter, build a hut surrounded by a purposefully designed moat on the outskirts of Chust where a menacing presence lurks among the uneasy villagers. A grisly murder sets off rumors of the "undead" roaming the area at night. When a band of Gypsies arrives, Peter becomes mesmerized by the beautiful Gypsy princess Sofia, whose people prevail upon Tomas to relinquish the contents of the mysterious wooden box he has kept buried and forbidden along with his past. It is through this act that Tomas is offered the redemption that makes this story complete. Sedgwick has captured the malevolent beginnings of the timeless vampire myth. When Tomas discloses the secret in the box, he reveals a silver sword and the key to his vampire-slaying past. In a bone-chilling, breathless conclusion, he passes the skill and the sword to his son with his dying breath, "my swordhand is singing," and Peter takes up the challenge. This is an outstanding tale of suspense and horror with detail enough to produce shivers, and it's also a story of father and son, and loss and restoration, with a satisfying conclusion.-D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga Public Library, Strongsville, OH
"Sedgwick knows his way around a gothic setting, and readers will likely devour this bone-chiller."
Review, Publishing News:
"A finely written, bone-chilling gothic tale."
Read an Excerpt
Deep in the Woods
When he fell for the fifth time, when his face plunged into the deep snow, when his hands burnt from the cold but he didn’t care, Radu the woodcutter knew he was going to die. Somewhere behind him in the darknesses of the forest he could hear the man who had attacked him. He was scared now, almost too scared to move, almost too cold to run anymore, but still he knew something was wrong. Something that should not be.
He got up and stumbled on desperately, sending snow flying in little spurts. Even here among the thickness of the trees it lay heavily on the ground, whisked and funneled by the east wind into strange hills and troughs, like white beasts lurking at the foot of the birches.
Radu looked behind him, but could see nothing. Nothing but the vast unfathomable forest. It was said you could ride from Poland to Turkey and never leave the trees behind, but he knew that wasn’t true. Nothing could be that big! Not even the Mother Forest.
He stopped for a moment, listening hard, but all he could hear was his own panting as he sucked air into his painful chest. He no longer knew where he was, though the forest had been his home all his life. His hut and his village were far away. He looked around, straining to recognize anything, but all he saw were a hundred thousand silver birch trees.
A branch cracked, and with horror Radu’s eyes snapped back to his pursuer. Now that Radu saw him again, he knew what was wrong.
“In the name of Jesus and the Forest . . .”
The words fell dead in the softness of the snow, but even as they did Radu turned and began to run, lurching wildly from tree to tree. His right hand left a smear of blood on the paper bark of a birch, but that wound was irrelevant now. It was such a short while since he’d been cutting wood with his axe. The axe that lay somewhere in the snow, its blade stained with blood, already frozen. His blood.
He hit another two trees, but barely noticed, and suddenly he realized where he was. Close to Chust, where his fellow woodcutter Tomas lived in a hut outside the village.
For a fleeting moment a flame of hope ignited in his heart. He had run fast, the village was only a short way through the trees, and he could no longer hear his attacker behind him.
But then Radu rounded a tree and ran straight into him.
The man was not tall, but he was fat. Bloated. His skin was as white as the trees around them. There was dried blood at the corners of his shriveled mouth. It had taken Radu all this time to recognize him.
Radu took a step backward, his fur boots brushing through the snow. He tripped over an unseen root, but kept his feet. He lifted a hand and pointed at the man.
“But Willem. You’re dead!”
The man lunged forward and shoved his hand like a knife into Radu’s chest, feeling for his heart.
“Not anymore,” he said.
And now it was Radu who fell dead in the softness of the snow.
Meet the Author
By day Marcus Sedgwick works in children’s publishing, and by night he is the drummer in a rock band in Brighton, England. He lives in Sussex with his wife, Pippa, and has a daughter, Alice.
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The book was action packed. It was one of the best books I read so far. Its violent scenes and energized chase scenes created a exciting horror story. Perfect book for readers that like scary books(for ages 13 up)
Marcus Sedgwick's MY SWORDHAND IS SINGING is a dark novel with a heavy emphasis on thick, snowy forests of Eastern Europe, gypsies, and superstitious town folk. It is the perfect setting for a scary story, but it is also much, much more.
Tomas and his teenage son, Peter, are a pair of traveling woodcutters with a mysterious past that settle down in the village of Chust one winter. Before long a string a deaths strike the village. Peter is perturbed by the villagers' strange reactions to the occurrences. When he asks Tomas about them, his father brushes away his questions as silly folk lore. However, Tomas is also doing his own share of strange things, like digging a trench around their home and filling it with moving water. When Agnes, a girl Peter likes, is symbolically married to a dead man and shut up in a remote hut, Peter tries to rescue her and runs into a monster.
Sedgwick takes pains to distance his tale from the gentleman bloodsucker that Anne Rice and authors like her have embedded into pop culture. The word "vampire" is never mentioned and the vampires, themselves, have varying appearances throughout the novel. He does a great job at weaving various and sometimes seemingly paradoxical pieces of folk lore. This gives the story a great sense of immediacy and realism. Sedgwick also shifts the focus from vampires to people who have to deal with terrifying occurrences at home. The buildup of the growing atmosphere of fear and denial will have readers biting their fingernails.
Marcus Sedgwick seems to take a lot of risks in writing this atypical, historically rich vampire novel. Central to the story line is not the relationship between a human and vampire or a girl and a boy (a la Buffy and Angel), but a wounded relationship between father and son. While this may seem terribly uncool, the realism of this relationship is what grounds the novel and makes the more fantastical elements more believable and scary.