|Advent by James Treadwell|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: Myth and magic in the modern world. A traditional quest tale beautifully told.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 512||Date: February 2012|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
A December Night 1537: the greatest magus in the world packs everything up and heads down to the harbour. He's booked his passage to England under a new name, heading for a new life. But it is a stormy night, and when the jumble of rags that follows him, speaks in the voice of one he once loved and demands back what he took from her, he refuses. Inside the box he carries, wrapped in wool, in a calfskin pouch warded with every spell he could conjure is a ring apparently made out of wood. Inside the ring was all the magic in the world.
John Fiste doesn't make it to England, and he takes the magic with him.
On a Monday morning in some un-named year near enough to our own, Gavin is being seen off on the train by his parents. He's been sent down from school, but they had a skiing trip planned, so the solution is to pack him off to Cornwall to stay with his batty Aunt Gwen. Aunt Gwen (short for Guinevere is it turns out) is thought by some to be a witch. Gavin has a tendency to see things that other people can't. In particular, he sees the mysterious Miss Grey. That's not her name, just one he made up for her. She talks to him in dreams – but she's there when he's awake as well. Most people don't get this and over the years 15 year old Gav has learned not to talk about it.
On the way to Cornwall he meets Professor Hester Lightfoot – who has also effectively just been thrown out of school (or encouraged to retire from her lectureship) for her tendency to hear voices. Actually, just one voice, she tells Gavin, but somehow voices sounded more normal.
Miss Grey makes an appearance on the train – wailing like a banshee – not something she is prone to. Presumably just being melodramatic to get her two protégées to talk to each other. It doesn't really work… but they get there eventually.
When he gets to Cornwall, there is no sign of Aunt Gwen – but with Professor Lightfoot's help he makes it to the lodge at Pendurra where she lives. That's when things start to go badly weird.
The first few chapters of Advent skip between Gavin's story and that of the mediaeval magus. I'm finding that this device of a duality of tale telling is becoming a little worn now, but here it works well enough – even though Treadwell feels the need to throw in the other somewhat overworked mechanism of telling one of the tales backwards (i.e. from Johannes' departure to his first meeting with the woman).
It works because the author doesn't bind himself to alternate chapters in one place/time or the other, because he shifts language suitably between the two with the modern story told in simple everyday English, and the mediaeval tale in a more lyrical, elaborate style, and because as events unfold in the present the need to go back to the past diminishes and takes the lower profile so that the action is allowed free flow.
The first in a trilogy, Advent is about the return of magic to the modern world.
It is a traditional fantasy, with all the elements that we should come to expect. Pendurra is a place where the magic never quite left – the big old house, lived in by a solitary gent and a strange teenage daughter who mustn't be seen by anyone, but who has a visiting friend (a Chinese child who bunks off school to play with her), protected by a caretaker who just knows when there is anyone strange on the premises. The house is full of secret passageways, and there is an eldritch chapel lurking in the woods.
The ring. Well, there has to be a magical ring does there not?
Demons and monsters? Check. Again in traditional guise: huge black dog, raven, walking trees – with a little African mask magic thrown in for good measure.
Monsters not always being monsters? Check.
And of course, at the heart of it all, a quest.
Perhaps all the best stories have already been told and it is becoming impossible to formulate anything that is totally new. Certainly in this genre the derivations are always evident and it is only their recombination that is fresh. In this case we have the Greek myths, Faust and the Arthurian legends plaited together. A touch of Poe. A measure of Secret Garden. A smidge of Du Maurier. Some of the references are obvious, others obscured until the time is ripe for their revelation. Most of them are laid bare eventually (presumably on the assumption that readers wouldn't get them otherwise, which is a shame).
If that is a criticism, it's not one that matters, because once you get past any irritation at the early flash-back reverse-chronology structure and into the story proper, it is well crafted ripping yarn of a boy's descent into a world of magic and evil as he seeks to save an innocent. Amongst the battle between good and evil, there's a voyage of self-discovery, and a subliminal discourse on the nature of knowledge and power and corruption.
The human characters are realistic and sympathetic, even those who are by any definition downright odd. The uncanny creatures are sufficiently spooky, horrible, vile and violent. The landscape is alive.
It's all thoroughly enjoyable.
Obviously, if you are going to write a trilogy and have determined that from the outset, then you have the structure of the three books in mind from the beginning. You know what links them. If you're of sound marketing mind, then you want to set up Book 2 at the end of Book 1. If the break is simply because the story is too long to get published as a single volume then you can end on a cliff-hanger. If the link doesn't take all of the characters forward, but only one or two of them, or (initially not even that), then there is a shift that needs to happen. Sadly, this isn't always done with the degree of subtlety required.
Advent would be a wholly more satisfying book if the final few pages had been left to the beginning of the sequel. They don't belong here. As I'm fortunate enough to have read an advance copy – maybe the author and editors might think about taking them out – in which case these last few paragraphs may not make any sense by the time you come to read it. Which would be all to the good. It's worth the read.
You can read more book reviews or buy Advent by James Treadwell at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Advent by James Treadwell at Amazon.com.
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