Midwinter BloodBy Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Book Press; 2013)

It’s really too bad about this book, a young adult novel with a complexity and ambition you don’t usually find in such fare, but which ultimately fails to reach its full potential. The problem? The fact that it’s a young adult novel, meaning it contains shortcomings that would never be tolerated in a grown-up publication.

MIDWINTERBLOOD clearly owes something to CLOUD ATLAS (the 2004 David Mitchell novel more than the 2012 film adaptation) in its centuries-spanning narrative that encompasses themes of determinism and reincarnation. A reading of CLOUD ATLAS is instructive in showing precisely what’s wrong with MIDWINTERBLOOD, which at under 200 pages is far too short to do its epic vision justice, and written in a highly stripped-down manner that favors single-sentence paragraphs, which doesn’t suit the material at all.

I can’t fault the overall conception, which is nothing if not intriguing. It begins in the year 2073, wherein Eric, a journalist, arrives at the mysterious Blessed Island. He’s investigating a flower native to the island known as the Dragon–or Dracula–Orchid, which is supposed to possess unique health-giving properties. Elsewhere on the island Eric meets Merle, a woman with whom he’s immediately smitten, resulting in an odd sense of déjà vu. He also learns of a religious cult afoot in the area and a vast mural on display in a run-down temple.

All those elements recur in the following six chapters, each set on the same island–which goes by Blessed, Blest and Bloed–in some past era. Chapter two takes place in 2011, and concerns an archeological dig, a strange boy named Eric and his mother Merle. Chapter three is set in 1944, in which a stranded fighter pilot gets involved with a farmer named Erik. In the 1911 set chapter four an inquisitive little girl named Merle befriends an ancient painter named Eric, with fateful results. Chapter five takes place in 1848, and involves a ghostly presence and a pair of doomed lovers named Merle and Erik. In chapter six, taking place in the tenth century, a brother and sister, Eirik and Melle, are menaced by their shady uncle, who to make natters worse is killed–and returns as a vampire! Then there’s the final chapter, set in “Time Unknown” and involving characters named Eirikr and Melle.

A laudable account, to be sure. Again, though, it’s a shame that what should be a veritable five-course meal of a book was rendered in the form of an appetizer.