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Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Publisher: Orion Childrens paperback
(22 April 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1444000054
• Sam Hawksmoor review

Revolver is an intensely atmospheric novel in a frozen landscape and this a desperate situation that keeps you gripped to the last murderous moment. Highly recommended

I come to Marcus Sedgwick by way of the glorious gothic novel ‘The Book of Dead Days’, truly one of the most remarkable, grim, menacing novels to be found for young adults. It’s a novel that haunts one long after it has ended, filled with a strange magician, an orphan called boy, re-animated dead animals and murderous activities in subterranean canals.            

Revolver is his latest novel, with a Colt 'Peacemaker' on the cover and it too is filled with people struggling against the odds in a bleak landscape. In this case it is 1910 and we are in the frozen Artic Circle. Young Sig Andersson is sitting in his cabin staring at his dead father. The ground is too icy to bury him. His sister and step-mother Nadya have gone to find help and may be some time in this snowy wilderness.

Sig has no idea as to why his father died out on the ice. He was always telling him that one should never cross it at the thin end – yet that was exactly what he had done and literally frozen to death out there on the lake.

A tall strange ugly man called Wolff, who has no thumb, comes knocking on the cabin door. He has come for fortune his father promised him. He won’t go away. He has been looking for Sig’s father for ten years. He made a deal and feels aggrieved that he has been cheated. Sig gets the feeling that he intends to kill him unless he can produce his father’s money. But Sig is only sure of two things. They are the poorest family on earth, there is no money but in the storeroom there is a revolver. An old revolver, to be sure, a Colt, but it could be the only thing that may allow Sig to survive. This is the story of that revolver.

We learn of the Andersson history. How ten years before they had arrived in Nome, Alaska for the gold rush, Sig barely five years old at the time, looked after by his sister Anna. But little gold was ever found. Few fortunes made and his father and his mother Maria were unable to catch the last boat home to Seattle due to her illness. They would have starved to death but for a man called Mr Salisbury who gave his father a chance, made him into the assayist, the man who tests the miners gold and puts a price on it.

This man Wolff tried to blackmail his father, struck a deal that his father wanted no part of. The Andersson family planned to flee, first chance they got, when the ships returned after the winter. Only Maria, his beloved mother, was shot dead. Sig, who found the body, suspects it was this man Wolff who did the terrible deed.

Now, on the very day his father had accidentally died Wolff has found them and wants not just his part of the deal, but all of it.

Sig is beaten, but stands his ground, hoping his sister won’t return. But she does and is tied up. Sig has to make a deal. He hopes to lure this big man Wolff onto the ice and hope that he too will crash through it and perish – and if that doesn’t work – there is always that revolver – patiently waiting for him in the storeroom.

It’s true what they say. If a revolver lies in a house, it will eventually be used. Marcus Sedgwick plays out this stand-off between young Sig and evil Wolff for the whole of this short 167 page novel. The tension steadily rises as the truth of the situation slowly emerges. Sig is sure that his father was an honest man, as sure as this man Wolff is totally evil, but Wolff has a revolver, a nice new Colt revolver and it is pointed at his head by a man who would be happy to use it. Wolff cannot see that they are poor and desperate, cannot see reason and doesn’t care who he kills, Sig or his sister Anna, just as long as he gets his money.

Revolver is an intensely atmospheric novel in a frozen landscape and this a desperate situation that keeps you gripped to the last murderous moment. Highly recommended.

The BOOK OF DEAD DAYS was nominated for the Guardian Award, and was also shortlisted for the Sheffield Book Award and the Edgar Allan Poe Award. REVOLVER, published in the UK in July 2009, was longlisted for the Guardian Children's Book Prize.

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