Marcus Sedgwick,
My Swordhand is Singing
(Orion, 2006; Wendy Lamb, 2007)

Stories about vampires are legion, and most portray the vile bloodsucking fiends as urbane creatures who could pass unnoticed among the upper echelons of society if it weren't for the pale skin and a tendency to bite.

Marcus Sedgwick reaches further back in vampire lore for My Swordhand is Singing, a novel that is creepier and more unnerving than many of its more modernistic counterparts.

Peter and Tomas are woodcutters who have lived a nomadic existence in the remote reaches of Eastern Europe in the 17th century. Tomas, the father, has a secret past and a hidden box that he won't share with his son, even as the village where they now reside is seemingly being overrun by a slavering horde of the recently dead.

Soon, Peter finds himself beset by superstitious villagers and roving gypsies, both of whom are at odds over the best course in the current crisis. Even Agnes, the local girl Peter longs for, is at risk as her sickly mother reports visits in the night from her late husband.

Although written with young-adult readers in mind, Sedgwick has crafted a novel that is intensely bonechilling for adults, too. Steeped in lore far older than Bram Stoker's Dracula, the book evokes a visceral reaction of fear and loathing that centuries of civilization has not managed to eradicate. Slow-paced at times, My Swordhand builds tension in a manner that is far more effective than pages of fast action and spraying gore could ever accomplish.

Fans of the growing vampire genre of modern literature should not pass this up. Sedgwick is serving up something a little different, both in his presentation of the undead monsters and in his focus on the relationship between a father and son, rather than the more typical romantic passion found in similar books.

Don't miss it. But keep a light on, too.

review by
Tom Knapp

22 December 2007

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