Tuesday, February 8, 2011

White Crow

This teen novel is the creepiest book I've read in ages!  The story opens as teenage Rebecca and her father arrive at their new house in the small English coastal town of Winterfold.  There is a mystery surrounding the reason for their move, but whatever the reason, it has clearly created tension in Rebecca's relationship with her father, and she is not at all happy about having to live in this sleepy small town.

Winterfold is an isolated place.  Once it was a thriving town, but as the years have passed, the sea has gradually been reclaiming it.  The cliffs are eroding, a grave or two in the cemetery washes away with each storm, and the walls of the old buildings as well.  This feeling of perpetual decay and loss permeates the tale.

The story is told through alternating points of view.  First, there is Rebecca's story, told in the third person.  Then, there is the first-person narrative of teenage Ferelith, who befriends Rebecca shortly after she arrives.  And then there is another third-person narrative, told from the point of view of the man who was the rector of Winterfold in 1798.  He is a disturbed man, obsessed with images of hellfire and damnation, and while he can easily envision the torments of hell, he is unable to imagine the joys of heaven.  His obsession leads him to become involved with the French doctor who arrives at Winterfold Hall, another man consumed by thoughts of the afterlife.  Together they embark on a series of twisted experiments involving a mysterious apparatus in a hidden room.

As the narrative switches from one character to the next, tension grows as the events of the past gradually connect with those of the present.  Rebecca is very alone, and while Ferelith is odd and unsettling in a way that Rebecca cannot quite articulate, she is, at least, a friend.  Ferelith is a fascinating character, and while my sympathies were mainly with Rebecca, I couldn't help but feel for Ferelith, whose mother has died, whose father has left her, and who is so very alone.  Rebecca is rather annoyingly passive at times, but again, she is desperately lonely, so it was easy to forgive her.  The girls' characters were skillfully drawn, with great complexity.  The rector, on the other hand, is not nearly as interesting, character-wise.  He is the typical zealous, hypocritical, ends-justify-the-means villain.  But his story is mesmerizing because each installment is a puzzle piece that leads the reader (or in my case, the listener) one step closer to discovering the horrible truth of the experiments being conducted at Winterfold Hall.

Let me take a moment to tell you about the audio production of this book, and how effectively Teresa Gallagher reads this story.  Each of the three plot strands is told in a slightly different voice, and there is a creepy echoing effect at times that really made shivers go down my spine.  There is atmospheric music that adds to the spooky mood, and the scenes are related so vividly that, when the book was over, I felt as though I'd seen a film rather than read a novel.  At one point while I was listening to this story, I was out late at night taking the dog for a walk, and honestly, I ended up taking a shortcut back home because I was so creeped out.  I highly recommend the audio book for this one, but only for those of you who are feeling particularly brave...  (Cue spooky music here.)

I highly recommend this dark and disturbing tale.  It would be a great choice for a book club - of teens or adults - because anyone who reads it will wish they had someone to talk about it with afterward.  It's that kind of book.  This is the first book I've read by Marcus Sedgwick, and I'll definitely be coming back for more.   

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick; narrated by Teresa Gallagher (Orion Publishing Group Limited, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
The Book Smugglers: "In the end, in spite of my misgivings with one part of the story (but I think they had to do more with format than actual content) White Crow provided me with a few good hours of reading till its truly, deeply, disturbing ending."
Rhinoa's Ramblings"Ferelith is such a sinister character and when I finished reading this in bed I have to admit to flicking to the end to check how it ended. I was scared I would have nightmares and wanted to see it turned out ok!"
Serendipity:  "I loved this book. It was dark, it was creepy and it really was a modern Gothic thriller."


  1. I want to read this at some point. The couple books I have read by him all ready were rather good.

  2. Kailana - I'm glad to hear you've enjoyed his other books. Is there any one you'd recommend that I try next?

  3. "When the book was over, I felt as though I'd seen a film rather than read a novel." <<<< I had that feeling with Joe Hill's Heart- Shaped Box. Sounds like a very cool book!

  4. Ladytink - That one has been on my list for a while now - probably because of your review. I must get to it soon!

  5. Oh Darla, so glad you enjoyed this! I read it last year after Rhinoa's recommendation - so eerie and sad. I cannot praise Marcus Sedgwick enough (I may have gushed a bit on my blog!). Try The Foreshadowing for a supernatural historical fiction, or My Swordhand is Singing for something a bit more mythic and fantastical. Enjoy ;)


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