Marcus Sedgwick is an incredible children’s writer. His novel Blood Red Snow Whiteis one of the most beautifully written books that I have ever read for any age group. So I had high expectations when I picked up Marcus Sedgwick’s novel The Kiss of Death (first published in 2008 by Orion).
The Kiss of Death is written for young teens, but it can be enjoyed by readers of many ages. Although The Kiss of Death follows on from the novel My Swordhand is Singing, it could be read on its own as well (or you can backtrack and read the backstory in My Swordhand is Singing afterwards).
The Kiss of Death opens with a haunting and threatening letter that sets the tone for this book. There is an impending sense of doom coupled with a feeling of decay throughout the book. Everything seems to be rotting, from the city itself to the people living in it. The first line of the novel proper is: “Death can come in many forms, but in Venice, death comes by water.”
In fact, death and Venice are as important to the novel as any of the characters. There is the constant threat of death hanging over the characters. The novel is set in Venice, but a Venice of the past where the Doge is still celebrated in a gold leafed barge and the best glass makers in the world gather on the islands around the city. The character of the city saturates the novel from the type of architecture and travel to the atmosphere. It is not merely a backdrop, but an integral part of the story. The Kiss of Death could not have been set anywhere else.
The story is, in fact, surprisingly simple. Marko leaves his home in rural Italy to search for his missing father in Venice. There he meets Sorrel, a girl of his age who seems to be full of despair. Her father, like her grandfather before him, is dying of a mysterious illness. It has left him as a disturbing shell of a man. Marko’s father had been attending him before he went missing. Together, Marko and Sorrel search the city for clues to save their fathers. They discover a plot far more widespread and evil than they had ever expected to find. With some unexpected help, they must battle against the leagues of Vampyri and their mysterious leader, the Queen of Shadows.
Although vampires are mentioned in the book, this is not truly a vampire book. Yes, it adds a good element to the book, but Twilight fans will be disappointed if they’re expecting that kind of book.
Overall, this book is concisely written and mesmerizing. If you enjoy this book, I highly recommend reading Sedgwick’s other novels.