Saturday, January 17, 2009

Endymion Spring

Matthew Skelton
Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2006

I spotted this book on a shelf in a shop. The cover intrigued me, so I picked it up and read the first few pages. I was hooked! This is a fantasy book about. . . books! My favorite subject!

The story runs on two levels. First comes the historical fantasy, well researched and brilliantly written, in which Johann Gutenberg's young shop assistant tells his tale. I ate it up. Dr. Fust (Faust), Gutenberg's business partner, arrives in town with something mysterious locked in a scary looking chest: magic paper that can reveal all knowledge to a chosen innocent. The shop assistant is the chosen one, and soon realizes that he must find a way to keep Fust from exploiting infinite knowledge for his selfish ends.

Fast forward to the twenty first century. A young boy named Blake has to hang around Oxford University while his mother does some scholarly research. He quickly becomes involved in a desperate race to find the pieces of the Book of All Knowledge before the bad guys beat him to it.

As much as I adored the historical fantasy portions of the book, the modern day part just wasn't so well done. First of all, I had very mixed feelings about the fact that Blake's parents were separated. On the one hand, I'm tired of that theme. Could we please have some fiction where the parents are not divorced or separated? Almost half of all real children still live in traditional nuclear families with married parents, but it seems that only about ten percent of fictional children do. On the other hand, Skelton handled it well. The emotions and reactions of the characters in relation to the separation were all honest and believable. On the other, other hand, it was completely irrelevant to the plot and it added about a hundred pages to a book that was nearly a hundred pages too long.

Secondly, in the modern day part, Skelton goes a little overboard with the poetic devices. Sometimes he hits it spot on, as in the following:
"A small rectangular lawn, brilliant green by day, but black by night, lay in front of them: a pool of darkness moated by a silver path."
That was beautiful! I could see it perfectly!

But other times:
"Dressed in a black leather jacket that made a crunchy sound when he moved, he sauntered up to the main counter and deposited an iridescent green helmet, like a decapitated head, on its surface."

Like a decapitated head? Did Skelton really intend to put that much horror and revulsion in that image? And what about the helmet was like a decapitated head? The shape? Maybe. The size? NO! The color? NO! The way the man set it down? Certainly not, unless he's used to handling decapitated heads!

Thirdly, Blake's story needed a little more work. For one, it contained too many characters. I had a hard time keeping them all straight. Also, Skelton began to resort to cheap tricks towards the climax. I mean, if you know the bad guys are hot on your tail, do you ever leave your little sister unattended for even one second? NO!

The reason I have written such a long and passionate review about this book is that I feel it could have been so much better! The ideas were GREAT! I loved the parts of the book that took place in 1452. If only Skelton could have refined Blake's story into a more compelling yarn. Ah well, it is only his first book. Maybe next time.

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