James Treadwell’s debut novel follows fifteen-year-old Gavin Stokes as he leaves his parents to spend a weekend with his aunt, and just happens to restore magic to the world at the same time. A somber, mysterious offering, this work is reminiscent of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (one of my all-time favorite books). Advent is much more unsettling, however. Everything is something else. Even the Faust story Treadwell uses as a touchstone is not the same Faust story we’ve heard before. Gavin is actually Gawain, the girl next door is actually a changeling, his parents aren’t really his parents, and Aunt Gwen is really– well, I won’t give it away. I’m just saying, Treadwell effectively communicates Gavin’s disorientation by sharing it with the reader.
I enjoyed this novel, but in the end it was all just a little too mysterious for me. As a reader, I needed some shred of reality to hang on to. Combining an unreliable narrator with a setting in constant flux leaves the reader nowhere to stand. I also felt like there were just too many myths happening at once. Faust, Cassandra, and allusions to King Arthur pop up all through the novel. I’m not averse to combining myths when it’s done well– it’s one of the things I love about American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I just would’ve appreciated it if Treadwell had made the connections between these myths more apparent. As it is, I can’t see any reason Cassandra and Faust know each other besides Treadwell maybe saying to himself, “Hey, you know what’s really different? Combining these two characters who have nothing in common.” The connection seems tenuous and forced.
That said, Gavin is a believable fellow I felt a lot of compassion towards. I really wanted him to be able to figure out what was happening. I really wanted him to succeed against all the troubles aligned against him. I was delighted when he discovered that his parents were not who he thought they were, when certain things about himself came into focus. And I like the whole premise that there are magical things happening all around us, little whispers and hints of a world beyond the quantifiable.
I certainly recommend this book, but I would warn readers that 1. it is a dark book; 2. there’s a little too much mystery; and 3. the resolution is not much of a resolution. I gather this is the first in a trilogy, and I’m sure by the end of the third book, all of these problems will have been resolved. Treadwell’s writing is excellent, even if his plotting leaves a teeny tiny something to be desired, and this is an engrossing, cerebral novel. Definitely good for reading on a dark and stormy night. I’m looking forward to reading the next two in the series once they’re available. Look for this book from your local indie seller.
As an afterthought, if anyone else reads this and wants to tell me whether or not it’s YA, I’d love to have that conversation. I mean, the protagonist is 15, and that’s usually the main criterion for classification, but this sure doesn’t feel like YA. What do you think?
(PS This was another gift from Atria’s Galley Alley promotion– the last, as it turns out, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Thanks Atria!)