Whenever I am in the mood for something atmospheric, gothic, and gorgeously written, I reach for Marcus Sedgwick. He is quite lauded in Great Britain, his books showing up on award lists time and time again, though perhaps a bit overlooked this side on the pond. This is a shame. If you want lush historical fantasy or something both beautiful and creepy, Sedgwick is your man.
White Crow is about humankind’s obsession with life after death, and the lengths some people will go to obtain answers. The white crow of the title is a reference to a theory by William James, a psychologist and philosopher who was fascinated by the Spirtualist movement. According to James, “if you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.” The sleepy English town of Winterfold plays host to Rebecca Case and her father, who have fled their old life in the city for anonymity in the country following an incident in which Mr. Case is accused of a child’s death. It is here, in spooky Winterfold, where Rebecca meets Ferelith, an odd girl with a past that would curdle a social worker’s blood. Ferelith is fascinated with the dark history of Winterfold and devises a series of increasingly cruel dares to test Rebecca’s friendship and her courage.
There are three distinct narrators in White Crow: an ominscient observer, Ferelith’s callous first person, and the diaries of an 18th century man of god who conducted gruesome experiments with a French scientist and a very nasty contraption featuring a homemade guillotine*. Sedgwick’s ability to weave these narratives together in a manner that is both suspenseful and informative is masterful. Despite a growing sense of dread, I was unable to put the book down.**
This is a dark book and is not suitable for the faint of heart. But it is perfect in it’s execution and gothic splendour, and for those who love a good horror story, certainly not to be missed.
White Crow is available now in hard cover from Orion Children’s Books.
*In the afterward, Sedgwick reveals that the story was inspired by a scientist who believed he could communicate with newly-dead victims of the guillotine. Again, this story is NOT for the faint of heart.
**Unfortunately it was late, and a restless sleep ensued. Probably not the best late night reading decision I’ve ever made.