Monday, 6 February 2017

Reading Challenge: A book set in the wilderness

With some books, there are better times of year to read them than others. Revolver, set in a cabin in the North Circle, is a book that you don't have to read in the winter but if you do then you will have that added empathy for the cold setting. 

The story flits backwards and forwards in time. You begin with the first strand of the tale set in 1910. Sig is a teenage boy yearning for a purpose, living with his father, Einar, step-mother and sister, Anna, in a cabin far out of town and separated from the local community. When his father dies, he is left in the cabin with the corpse while the two women go in to town. A malignant visitor comes calling, looking for an old debt to be settled. The narrative then takes a step back to 1899, Nome in Alaska, scene of the Nome Gold Rush. Einar is a desperate man with an ill wife, two small children and no way of supporting them as winter comes in and the veneer of civilisation in the gold rush camp begins to wear thin. He gets himself a Colt revolver 'for when the Faith runs out'. The choices he makes will return to haunt his children. As the tension builds with Sig, at the mercy of the menacing stranger, the story moves between past and present, building to a tense resolution.

Marcus Sedgwick sets the scene well. He quickly builds the picture of the remote cabin, the heavy snow, the biting cold in the air, the keenness of the wind that can steal your breath away. Sig and his family survive out there - the climate means that thriving is something beyond them. The isolation makes Sig's vulnerability all the sharper. The reader's mind, like his, keeps returning to the revolver that is hidden and how he can get to it, tempered with the fear that Wolff, his malevolent guest, is cunning enough to be one step ahead of him. I found it easy to imagine the camp in Nome too; the eerie darkened world where the sun recedes in the face of winter and it is the people around you who are as much of a threat as the weather. 

Marcus Sedgwick

The character of Sig was easy to relate to. Einar not so much for me - what man takes a wife and young children to a gold mining camp? Sig is on the cusp, too old to be considered a boy and not yet experienced enough at standing on his own to be a man. He has lots of questions and no answers at the start of the book. By the end, he comes to know himself a lot more and to understand what he is and isn't capable of under pressure.

I enjoyed the book and found it to be a page turner, one of those you pick up meaning to only read a couple of chapters and then have to keep on going to see what happens. Just at the point where I thought I might be able to set the book aside Sig's sister returns to the cabin alone, giving Wolff that extra bit of leverage.

8 out of 10 cabins

I've done some investigating into Marcus Sedgwick's other books, and will definitely be reading more of his work. That's one of the best things about a reading challenge - the new authors you get to add to your list!

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