A Love Like Blood is Marcus Sedgwick’s first novel for adults. He is acclaimed as a young adult author, and has turned his hand to a varied range of subjects within his fiction. The prologue of his newest offering opens in Sextanio in Italy in 1968, and its beginning is certainly intriguing: ‘Dogs are barking in the night. He’s somewhere in the broken village on the hilltop opposite me’. Using such prose, Sedgwick is able to set the scene within A Love Like Blood immediately.
In the first chapter, which begins in Paris in 1944, the reader is taken into the narrator’s memories. ‘Paris,’ Charles Jackson explains, ‘was free, and I was one of the very few Englishmen to see it’. Our narrator is twenty five years old at this point in time, and is a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, an experience which he explains threw him straight into adulthood. It is an interesting technique to begin a book close to the end of the Second World War rather than at its beginning, and it does work well here. Sedgwick puts across the point that the city is so changed from one week to the next, and the way in which he portrays this information contributes to the strong sense of history which the novel holds.
On a trip to a chateau just outside Paris to view some artefacts with his CO, one of the items which Charles is shown is said to be one of the earliest known depictions of vampires. He is startled and has to hurtle outside to get some fresh air. He finds himself wandering into a bunker and there, he witnesses a man ‘drinking’ from a wound upon the body of a young woman.
Throughout, the sense of place and its importance in the grand scheme of things has been well thought out. The book moves from Paris to Cambridge and back again. On his second trip to Paris, Charles finds the couple whom he saw in the bunker eating in a busy brasserie, and he decides to follow them. He is an honest narrator, but there are times at the start of the book in which he seems too preoccupied with himself and his own problems. Just at the point that this begins to become a little wearing, it stops altogether.
Elements of mystery are tied up with those of horror in the novel, and the way in which the plot unfolds does not feel too dissimilar to that of Dracula at times. Blood is, of course, a central theme – Charles becomes an expert in haemotology, and there is also the presence of the vampire, for example. Although some of the elements of the plot are quite other-worldly, it is still, oddly, eminently believable. Foreboding drips in here and there, and whilst things are able to be presupposed to a point by the reader, there are many surprising moments which aim to throw us off the track. Sedgwick’s writing is easy to get into, and is not stylistically complex in any way. Indeed, it does not feel too dissimilar to the style in which he writes for his younger audience. In A Love Like Blood, he has crafted a great novel, and the plot points have been well placed into the whole so that there is not a dull moment.