The Ghosts of Heaven

Written by Marcus Sedgwick
Review by Sandra Unerman

There are four stories in this book. In his introduction, Marcus Sedgwick says that they can be read in any order but they are set out in chronological sequence.

The first story concerns an unnamed girl living in prehistoric times. She hopes to work hunting magic for her tribe. Sedgwick evokes a vision of what life might have been like for the people who made cave paintings. The verse form helps to create the feel of an epic from the far past, without being difficult to read. The second story is about a witch hunt in England. Anna, the daughter of a cunning woman, is persecuted by a Minister of the Church, who secures the support of the local people. I found this the least satisfactory section of the book, maybe because I have read too many versions of this scenario before.

The third story concerns a doctor in a mental hospital on Long Island, New York, in the middle of the 20th century. Dr James has to struggle against men with evil intentions, as well as his own grief for his dead wife and his nightmares. Both the setting and the characters come alive to powerful effect. The last story is set in the future, on a space ship. It begins as an adventure story but turns into something more complicated.

The image of the spiral recurs throughout the book, as do ideas about the power of dreams, the relationship of humanity to the natural world and the universe and to death. Sedgwick makes his characters grapple with these themes in ways that show both how differently people can think in different times and places and the underlying similarities. An engaging and thought-provoking book, for readers of 10 and above.