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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Advent by James Treadwell

On the surface, not a lot happens in Advent. A boy who feels unappreciated at home travels from London to far Cornwall by train, arrives at his aunt's house but can't find her, meets the other people who live on the manor and runs back and forth on the grounds a few times. Oh, and magic has lain dormant for half a millennium and slips back into this world in this book.

The big events are largely interior, and the main character is really the language, so Advent bucked any expectations I had by being surprisingly literary.

Here's an example that stayed with me, from page 240:

"What's happening?" The question dropped of its own accord from the block of his bewilderment, a fragment calving from a glacier.

I thought, if the author can take the time not only run the two worlds (the world we know and the magical world) together through the plain style of speech and the elegant narration but also to extend a metaphor, striking in its own right, for such a simple piece of dialogue, what other literary wonders await? The answer: an astonishing number.

Some reviewers have said that the book is slow, and it's at least partly because this example is not unusual. The whole book is like this. This is not a book I would have enjoyed as a child. A reader needs to have a certain contemplative maturity in order to enjoy what the author is trying to do. It's a book meant to be savored, set down and returned to later, not read in one night. The magical elements are intelligently plotted and crafted and the narration expects a bit of intelligent work on the part of the reader. If you like your fantasy laid out plain, this is not your book.

I enjoyed the weaving together of the Faust legend and that of the sybil Cassandra immensely. I also had a strong desire to escape to Pendurra, the estate where time has stopped or at least slowed down. The story feels complete to me, so I'm puzzled -- and maybe a little curious -- as to how much more ground can be covered in the two other books in the series. Overall, Advent delivers on the promises of its blurbs. It's original, full of mystery, and stunning.