The year is 1537. A man hurries through city streets in a gathering snowstorm, clutching a box in one hand. He is Johann Faust, the greatest magician of his age. The box he carries contains a mirror safeguarding a portion of his soul and a small ring containing all the magic in the world. Together, they comprise something unimaginably dangerous.
London, the present day. Fifteen-year-old Gavin Stokes is boarding a train to the countryside to live with his aunt. His school and his parents can’t cope with him and the things he sees, things they tell him don’t really exist. At Pendurra, Gavin finds people who are like him, who see things too. They all make the same strange claim: magic exists, it’s leaking back into our world, and it’s bringing something terrible with it.
Johann Faust, Cassandra, and … Gavin Stokes? What connects these three people? What of the ring that Faust carried and lost to the sea? The answers to these mysteries are enticing and fascinating.
Unfortunately, they also come at a snail’s pace; this book, the first in a trilogy, takes almost 450 pages to set things up, share the background story (after a great deal of waiting), and ready things for … the next book. The book alternates sections, beginning with Faust, then moving on to his future — our present — and Gavin’s story. This alternating third-person point of view allows the reader to be immersed in two stories at once, and interwoven between each are hints of things to come. Faust’s story, familiar to readers of fantasy and opera- and classics-lovers alike, is augmented here and there with breaths of Arthurian, Greek, and Celtic legend.
The prose here is gracefully beautiful, and the portrayal of Gavin in all his teenage impatience, sullenness, and exasperation with his parents and the world around him are entirely believable. The tone here is not that of epic fantasy, but seems almost gothic in places, with voices only certain people can hear, distant places haunted by the spirit (and spirits) of the past, and strange visions. The menagerie of the bizarre present in much of the best of modern fantasy makes its appearance near the end: mermaids, dryads, pookas, and stranger things still cavort across the landscape of Cornwall as events wend their way toward the end of the book.
Aside from the slow unfolding of the story, the book suffers in places from an unfocused plot and a lack of motivation on Gavin’s part that at times undermines the narrative. There are places where the story rambles, seemingly sidetracked from the main thrust of the plot, although I have an inkling that all these loose ends and outwardly unconnected fragments will connect up in the second and third novels in the series and make more sense then. The book is also hampered by a certain amount of repetition between chapters, which could have been solved by better editing. The author appears to believe that readers will have already forgotten something they read just two chapters back, but most readers are not quite so absent-minded, and it unfortunately comes across as annoying.
For readers who can temper their impatience with the book’s pacing, repetitiveness, and lack of focus, the story does come together better near the end, and pays off with an amazing ending that is certain to lead directly into the second book of the trilogy. I give Advent a cautious thumbs-up for the potential of the story, the beautiful prose, and the hope that the second and third entries in the trilogy will fulfill the promise I can almost see here, but not quite find.
[Jennifer Lawrence likes the fey and the strange, which explains most of her friends. Her interests include gardening, herbalism, mythology and fairy tales, theology, Celtic music, role-playing games, horror movies, and the martial arts. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Aphelion, Jabberwocky 4, Cabinet Des Fees, Goblin Fruit, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina anthology Unbound: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Artemis. She lives with her husband, her younger daughter, five cats, a dog, and a houseful of gargoyles somewhere near Chicago.]