White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
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.
White Crow is Marcus Sedgwick’s latest novel. Many will know Sedgwick as a writer of ‘scary’ and ‘chilling’ stories and this latest offering is no different. It is the third of his novels that I have now read and it is perhaps my favourite! I honestly could not put it down. I was completely gripped by the mix of characters from different time periods who have all lived in the town of Winterfold. It is quick, fast-paced but above all it is an original story for young adults. That is what I love most of all about Sedgwick – his originality and truely brilliant imagination.
There is so much going on in this story it is hard to include it all in this review. It makes you think about life’s biggest questions: Does God really exist? Does the Devil exist? Is there life after death, and if so can science help explain it? There are three different narratives that approach these subjects throughout; Rebecca, Ferelith, and the Rector who is writing from the 17th century. The whole story surrounds the legend of Winterfold Hall – the venue of the bizarre experiments carried out by the Rector and Dr Barrieux as they are drawn to each other through science and religion to discover the truth about life after death. Sedgwick has said that his inspiration for this idea came from a true account of a scientist who believed that the state of consciousness persists up to thirty seconds after beheading and went on to prove this. The rector is obviously a very religious man who’s thoughts are often consumed of what will happen to him after he dies. Will he end up in Heaven or Hell? He seeks the truth from the mysterious Dr Barrieux and together they force science and religion to work together as they seek out willing victims to give them the answers they need.
The character of Ferelith is extremely interesting in the little that we learn of her life. She is most of all, very intelligent – she has no need for school, parents, or even friends most of the time until she meets Rebecca. Their friendship is really intriguing – I could never quite work out if Ferelith really thought of Rebecca as a ‘friend’ or just someone to amuse herself with. They have both had hard lives – Rebecca’s father is suffering the impact of a work-related incident and the two have a very strained relationship, whilst Rebecca’s parents are both dead. It is their difficult lives that have somehow brought them together I believe. Ferelith has many monologues throughout the story that describe her love for Rebecca and it is quite chilling to read. It is so hard to know if she is sincere in her love or not. There are many touching moments where you really want them to embrace each other and become real friends but it never quite reaches that point of absolute trust for each other.
I love the metaphorical use of the ‘white crow’ throughout the novel – there are some beautiful descriptions and bring the ideas of life after death together to a fitting conclusion. I must say that as much as I loved this novel, the big questions it tries to ask of its readers and characters, and the originality of this exquisite piece of gothic writing – I just didn’t completely understand the ending. It is definitely left for you to interpret how you would like. I found this very frustrating – I thought maybe I had missed something. But after hunting through other reviews online I found that others found the same! There are several different possible conclusions – was Ferelith ever a real person or just someone invented by a sad, lonely girl? Or was she actually the white crow? Or was her body simply used by someone else’s spirit? It really is a hard one to work out and I guess the only one who really knows the answer is Mr Sedgwick himself!
This an excellent read for young and older adults. It will not disappoint. This is most definitely not the last I will be reading of Marcus Sedgwick. I have already got my eye on his gothic vampire tale My Swordhand is Singing and I can’t wait to venture into his imagination yet again!