a review by Nalini Haynes
Advent begins with Gavin is a 15 year old boy alienated from his parents, suspended from boarding school, then sent to stay with his Aunt Gwen for a week while his parents go on holiday. Gavin has a companion, Miss Grey, who only Gavin can see and who only speaks to him in dreams although he sees her when awake. On the train to meet Aunt Gwen, Gavin shares a table with Professor Hester Lightfoot, whose retirement was forced upon her after her public admission of mental illness (hearing voices). When Gwen fails to meet Gavin, Hester drives Gavin to Gwen’s home, thus Gavin discovers Pendurra and its extraordinary inhabitants.
Johannes Faust drowns in chapter one, which is written like a prologue. While Gavin’s story progresses, Faust’s story regresses, every chapter taking him further back in time until Faust’s history and his motives are explained. The timelines merge. The story progresses. Faust’s story is entwined with Arthur Pendragon’s story, or so Advent hints. Gavin becomes Gawain, Gwen is Guinevere, Izzy is Ygraine, and the property around which the story focuses is Pendurra. Treadwell does not reveal Merlin or Arthur, nor does he explain why these tropes are entwined; Treadwell only hints.
Written in the third person omniscient, the narrator’s voice tends to be shaped depending on the focus of the narrative. Thus, the narrator’s voice for Gavin is more typical of a young adult novel although there is a little swearing; this swearing is used as a foil to reveal the innocence and unworldliness of 13 year old Marina, one of the inhabitants of Pendurra. When Horace, the Chinese boy who is Marina’s friend, becomes the focus, the language tends to portray a younger speaker. However, when Faust is the focus, the language tends towards the pompous and melodramatic; I felt myself distanced from the immediacy of the story during these portions of the narrative. The last few chapters are a strong contrast with the earlier language: Gavin swears repeatedly, using ‘Jesus’ and variations on ‘fuck’, which are all the more shocking as this language contrasts with his previous language. The final chapter appears to be an epilogue; it begins with a wrap up of familiar characters and, after no more than a line space, launches new characters a world away, with language discordant with the rest of the book.
Advent is quite sexist. Gavin’s mum is downtrodden and put-upon, the meat in the sandwich between her husband and her son. Gwen is put down consistently by Gavin’s dad, and represented as unreliable and mentally unstable. Professor Lightfoot is the ‘nutty professor’ who is rendered impotent repeatedly, including going for a ten minute walk to get mechanical help for her car and then spending a day in the doorway of a church freezing to death in the middle of a village. Marina is innocent and otherworldly, a victim who needs to be cared for. Marina’s mother deserted her. After drowning, Faust takes a woman’s form and blames the female form for his mistakes, his loss of control, his weaknesses. The narrator no longer refers to Faust as male in spirit, but refers to Faust as female. It appears the fall of Faust is blamed on his monstrous female form. A wood nymph and a mermaid are represented as seductresses and largely powerless: they require male intervention to aid them and are powerless to act on their own behalves. In contrast, a male spirit, Corbo, manages to free himself somewhat from Faust’s enchantment and make his own way.
A new female character is introduced in the final chapter: Jen, a 16 year old girl, presented as the nurturer and carer for her mother, brothers and the baby. Jen is aware that her mother’s former boyfriend found Jen’s breasts attractive so she has decided to get a man to take her away in exchange for sex. The thought of escaping by herself does not occur to her: she feels a need to be rescued. This felt like a slap in the face: ‘But the rest of the time she was actually pretty happy about the boobs. They were her ticket out. Mom would never let her go away, so her only chance was to get someone to take her… a white guy…with a stack of cash…and an eye for the boobs. Wham, bang, see ya later.’
The book design was creative and readable. Fonts were relatively easy to read and well laid out with clear contrast between text and the page. One of my pet peeves is adherence to fashion with book covers, however Advent will stand out on the bookshelves with its textured, misty-looking cover with silhouettes of birds. The cover hints at the mythical tropes within the books and rises above current fashions.
The prose and plot carry one along; until the last chapter it is easy to be swept along with the current. At the conclusion it remains unclear as to why the Arthurian and Faustian legends have been combined in the twenty-first century; there are hints that winter may last three years (a climate change trope?), a great magical unveiling is about to occur and mythical creatures will walk the Earth. This series holds promise, but I’d like to see some character development.