Advent: Magic is Rising…

10 Jan

It’s been a while since I read an entire book in a weekend but that was the case with the advance copy I recently got my hands on of James Treadwell’s debut novel Advent, partly because I’ve been waiting for someone to write a book like this for what feels like a very long time! Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the high esteem in which I hold The Dark is Rising and that is perhaps the best comparison to make at the outset – reading Advent is like re-visiting an older, darker, more mature version of Susan Cooper’s famous novel. Treadwell’s book is brimming over with all of the elements that fans of everything from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen will know and love – ancient magic, a struggle between good and evil, burgeoning wisdom and a young man’s coming of age. What I particularly like about Advent, though, is that the novel isn’t merely derivative and that its author mines less familiar areas of fantasy and mythology such as alchemy, necromancy and the Faust legend.

The book’s main protagonist is 15 year old Gavin, who feels isolated and marginalised both at school and at home because of his strange gift: the ability to see things that are invisible to everyone else. His only companion and confidante growing up is his ‘imaginary friend’ Miss Grey, the mention of whom seems only to scare his mother and anger his father. Eventually things become too much and he is sent away to stay with his eccentric Aunt Gwen in Cornwall – the only problem is that when Gavin arrives in Truro no one is there to meet him. Even worse, the weather is turning bad and unnerving things are stirring – which is when thing start to get really interesting! This brief introduction may make Advent sound like virtually every other children’s fantasy novel ever written, from The Box of Delights to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but for me what makes it stand out is its intriguing use of the Faust legend. Faust was famously the hero of the classic German legend of a highly successful scholar who, growing dissatisfied with his life, makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The term Faustian has hence often been used to describe an arrangement in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success: the proverbial ‘deal with the devil’. Advent posits the idea that Johann Faust was a real person – the last and greatest of magicians – who in a shipwreck lost a priceless ring in which was bound up all the world’s magic. Whilst we’ve all gotten on well enough without magic for the last five hundred years since then, magic, so the book tells us, is rising once more…

For a debut novelist, Treadwell possesses a rare grasp of language and the art of storytelling. The book is by turns haunting, eerie and entrancing, perhaps fittingly enough given the otherworldly subject matter. The author has an academic background, which shows in his scholarly prose, which has a ring of authenticity when it is concerned with events from the distant past. This is not to say that Advent is at any point dry or dusty – far from it in fact, since Treadwell also has a flair for contemporary dialogue (on more than one occasion I found myself picturing scenes from the book as part of a film or TV series). The tension level is ratcheted up from chapter to chapter until the reader is totally engrossed, aching to discover the many little secrets and mysteries scattered throughout the book. The setting of Cornwall feels like as much of a character as any of the people – full of mysterious country houses, local legends and supernatural forces in the very landscape. I was left wanting more by the end of Advent, so it’s just as well that this is the first novel of a projected trilogy. In terms of weaknesses – which have to be expected since this is only the author’s debut novel – I would say that Advent occasionally suffers from slow pacing, a tendency towards wordiness, and an absence of development of key characters. The book starts and ends strongly enough but perhaps loses focus somewhat in the middle – a fault which could perhaps have been remedied if it had been a hundred pages or so shorter (why, oh why do so many fantasy novels feel unnecessarily padded these days?!). I’m hopeful that these minor faults will be remedied in Treadwell’s future novels and I for one cannot wait to see what the future holds for young Gavin…

6 Responses to “Advent: Magic is Rising…”

  1. The Heretic January 10, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Hopefully I can check this book out when I make it through the massive pile that I have before me.

  2. J.D. January 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Sounds interesting.

  3. FantasyNibbles January 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    I’ve been reading this one today too, so…so beautiful

  4. Jess January 11, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    Sounds good! I’ve always meant to read The Dark Is Rising too, but haven’t yet got round to it.

  5. The World is my Cuttlefish January 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Very informative review. I’ll look for this book. Sounds delicious.

  6. Karen Brier January 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Just finished and found it so wonderful! I didn’t find it lagging or long in the middle, but I suspect I read faster as I finished it in about 8 hours! Have already pinged the author’s website to try and find out when book 2 will emerge! Excellent review – let us know when you get the advance copy of book 2 as I’m eager to learn all about it.

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