One of the hallmarks of the fantasy genre is worldbuilding. Authors create new worlds complete with geography, history, morals and even languages, and set their stories there. Some of the best worldbuilders create places that seem very similar to the world in which we live, imbuing it with magic. In ADVENT, the first book in a new fantasy trilogy, English writer James Treadwell merges a magical world with the mundane one.
"[B]y the end, as the world begins to feel the pangs of magic’s rebirth, Treadwell sets his story up for a promising sequel in which he will inventively build a world where mystery and magic live again."
Magic, the book tells us, once lived in the world. But over time it was reduced, hidden, morphed into superstition, and mocked as Europe came first to the age of Christianity and then to the age of Reason. One magician, Johann Faust (the greatest ever), finally gathered up all the magic and tried to find a new home for it across the sea. But the ship that was to carry him away that winter night in 1537 was wrecked, and he drowned. Now, in present-day England, that drowned magician with his drowned magic is resurfacing at a place called Pendurra in Cornwall. And a 15-year-old boy, different from everyone around him, is heading for Pendurra as well.
All his life, Gavin Stokes has been haunted by the vision of Miss Grey, an ethereal presence only he can see. His parents are no longer sympathetic to his insistence that she exists. When he tells a teacher about her, everyone believes he is mentally ill. But his Auntie Gwen always knew there was something special about him, and so has invited him to stay with her for a week at Pendurra while his parents are on holiday. What greets him in the small village is not his kind and eccentric aunt, but instead a frightening realization that Miss Grey is real followed by days of confusion and stunning violence as Faust has resurfaced, demented and bitter, seeking not only to bring magic back into the world but to destroy anyone who would stop him.
Caught in Faust’s fury are Gavin (transforming through the story into Gawain, the name he was given at birth); Hestor Lightfoot, a kindred spirit; an innocent boy named Horace; and Marina, a strange girl who has lived her whole life hidden from the world at Pendurra. Soon they are all pulled into the vortex as magic begins to seep back into the world. Gawain’s role is clear: he must stop Faust’s demons, but the reason he is chosen to do so remains a bit of a mystery.
ADVENT is clearly just the prologue to the full story Treadwell is telling, and more questions are posed than answered in its pages. It is a strange and dark book, sometimes full of fast-paced horror and at other times slowed down with attention to detail. Treadwell draws on classic Faustian legends and Greek mythology, namely the myth of Cassandra, setting it all in Cornwall, a land of ancient culture.
In no way is ADVENT an easy read; it is moody and often lovely, but difficult to follow at times. The dreamy writing verges on stream of consciousness as characters’ thoughts spring up and disappear under new ones quickly as they panic or try to puzzle out what is happening. Readers are tasked with trying to determine what is happening as well. Treadwell creates a chilling mood, yet the characters are slippery and the atmosphere occasionally bogs down the plot. Still, by the end, as the world begins to feel the pangs of magic’s rebirth, Treadwell sets his story up for a promising sequel in which he will inventively build a world where mystery and magic live again.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 2, 2012