Saturday, July 07, 2012

It's not's me?

ADVENT by James Treadwell: I love fantasy. I re-read LORD OF THE RINGS every couple of years. I excel at suspension of disbelief and immersing myself in alternate worlds. So I expected to fall in love with ADVENT, the first in a trilogy that weaves together the Faust legend, Greek mythology including the always-fascinating Cassandra, and Celtic folklore, all propelled by a confused teenager who has always conversed with people who aren't there. It may be that in the context of the entire trilogy, ADVENT makes sense, but as a novel in its own right, it was a sprawling (though often beautifully written) mess with frustrating pacing. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Gavin, the teenaged boy sent to live with his nutty aunt at the mysterious estate of Pendurra, is a likable child, poised to learn more about his gifts in a classic coming-of-age fantasy arc. This part of the story was engaging. Gavin has been told his entire childhood that the people who are most real to him are imaginary, so he has a distrust of adults. When his aunt, always a favorite and the one most interested in and accepting of his strangeness, fails to pick him up at the train station, a batty professor gives him a lift to Pendurra, and she is the first person he has encountered who shares his visions. Their interactions are some of the best moments in the novel. As they approach the mysterious estate, Gavin describes it beautifully:

"Beneath them, a pair of rough stone posts flanked a driveway leading off into wooded blackness. Beside the driveway, a little way beyond the gateposts, was a house. Hester Lightfoot had cut off the engine and was getting out. Still slightly dizzy, Gavin followed. A gusting wind blew about. There was nothing to hinder it. In all directions, the land fell away gently. Gav thought he knew now what it had been like for the first man on the moon, his foot touching down on the rim of another world, suspended in empty space. He saw a word carved in the nearer gatepost: Pendurra."

This is typical of the expansive, evocative language Treadwell uses in descriptions from Gav's point of view, and one of the book's highlights. It is less successful in the sections from the sixteenth century. The "greatest magus in the world" (as he is referred to in practically every mention of him) is bombastic and not terribly interesting. Once I'd ascertained that not much essential was conveyed through his ramblings, I began skimming these parts and was happier for it. Pendurra through Gav's eyes is mysterious, magical, downright creepy. He meets the odd child who lives there, Marina, and learns odd tidbits about the estate: a river where Marina sees a woman, a chapel housing water with healing powers, and Marina herself: oddly innocent and unaware of the outside world.

Besides the annoying ramblings of "the greatest magus in the world" (early on, I began rolling my eyes whenever I read that phrase), the compelling story of Gavin discovering the truth about Pendurra and about himself is interrupted by large chunks of backstory dumped into the narrative and interrupting the action. I can only imagine that the author delighted in his world-building and couldn't bear to keep it from the reader, but glimpses of backstory worked directly into the narrative would have been far less disruptive, repetitive, and redundant. At one point, in the midst of the book's climax, the reader's interest is derailed by page after page of an internal history lesson, much of which could have been inferred with the inclusion of the few actually relevant details in the narrative. More than halfway through the novel, we begin reading passages from the point of view of Horace, a tangential character and friend to Marina, which add absolutely nothing except to distract from the story. The points of view of random people from the neighboring village, a confused priest, and a journalist staying at the inn are thrown in for good measure. But Gavin is really the only fully-formed character. Marina is vague and out of touch with reality (I wanted to smack her when she dithers as Gav is trying to save her life) and we don't learn much about the professor or Marina's father.

The less said about the ending, the better. It's no doubt the perfect set-up for book two, but when the end finally comes (and it's a long time coming - at 65% of the way through the book (according to my Kindle), the climax begins, but the endless exposition and unnecessary point of view switching bogs it down) it is abrupt and feels entirely contrived, with a previously unknown character the sudden focus. I am sure the next book centers on this girl, but I don't see myself sticking around to find out how the trilogy weaves together all these threads. I'm not sure to whom I would recommend this book. Die-hard fantasy fans with a high tolerance for exposition? Ultimately, the promise of the book's beautiful language and compelling coming-of-age story wasn't realized for me, and I was relieved to see the last page.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

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