If you are following the recent trend of handsome, sexy vampires that sparkle in the sun and fall in love with high school girls, then you may find Marcus Sedgwick’s novel a bit shocking. My Swordhand is Singing is a dark novel set in the early 17th century. Sedgwick takes the reader back to a time when vampires were horrifying, repulsive, blood-sucking creatures that rose from their graves and took gruesome revenge upon the living.
My Swordhand is Singing shares some qualities with Bram Stocker’s Dracula. The two novels are written in the Gothic genre and maintain suspense throughout. In both, the tension begins slowly and the eerie atmosphere suggests that something dreadful is going to happen. However, Sedgwick looks back to a much older vampire mythology than Stoker does. He refers to early reports when “vampires were more like zombies with a bloodlust—either horrific bloated corpses returned from the earth, or beings indistinguishable from their former living selves” (203). He digs through various stories of the original vampire folklore and chooses a vampire type that is immune to light, making his reinvention of the myth a thriller.
In Sedgwick’s novel, Tomas and his son, Peter, are both woodcutters who have been living near a small village, Chust, when terrifying events take place. Radu, a woodcutter, is found dead in the woods with his heart pierced and a facial expression that is “a mix of shock and horror-and incomprehension” (15). During his funeral, the townsfolk place thorns around his body, which is placed face down in the casket. Peter eagerly questions his father for an explanation, but Tomas merely replies: “They’re simple, superstitious people here. Don’t take any notice of their foolishness” (16). Tomas, who spends most of his day drinking, knows something about these uncanny events that others don’t, but tries to shelter his son from it. While modern vampire myths usually focus on the relationship between a human and a vampire, Sedgwick focuses on the troubled relationship between a father and son. When the two come together in the vampire battle, their relationship is forever changed.
After meeting a gypsy named Sophia, Peter learns more about these superstitions. He discovers why his father dug a “channel of fast-flowing waters” around their home, why Sophia always carries millet seeds with her, and why thorns are placed in Radu’s casket. In order to fight the evil force that is before them, Peter must believe in the myths and trust Sophia’s knowledge. After Sophia warns him of the danger they—and the whole world–are in, Peter accepts his responsibility to fight the disgusting revenants that are terrorizing the village. Together, these teens begin the battle that ultimately gets Tomas to open up to his son about his past.
The traits and appearance of the literary vampire have greatly evolved from the original folklore that created this legend. Today, most fictional vampires are portrayed as attractive, romantic figures. They are identified only through their sharp teeth or dark capes. In some recent novels, vampires feed off energy rather than human blood. In Dracula, it is likely that Stoker drew from more modern Irish myths. He includes a vampire that is desirable and invisible in mirrors, traits not included in the traditional Eastern European folklore. In My Swordhand is Singing, Sedgwick introduces readers to authentic Eastern European superstitions and legends, including those involving the evil Shadow Queen, St. Andrew’s Eve, and a powerful song called “the Miorita,” making his book original and intriguing. Many locals of Transylvania would be familiar with the stories Sedgwick includes. He does his research and provides us with a historically rich, yet still thrilling, vampire novel.
Sedgwick, Marcus. My Swordhand is Singing. Great Britain: Orion Children’s Books, 2006. Print.