A review of James Treadwell's Advent

Written by Seregil of Rhiminee (September 30, 2013) [Articles / Reviews]

James Treadwell's Advent was published by Hodder & Stoughton in February 2012 and by Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Simon & Schuster) in July 2012. It's the first novel of the Advent trilogy.

Information about James Treadwell:

James Treadwell was born in West London and is still living there more than forty years on. Formerly an academic specialising in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature, he is now, and hopes always to be, a writer of fantasy novels.

His current vocation can probably be blamed on reading Roger Lancelyn Green's Myths of the Norsemen and Barbara Leonie Picard's retellings of the Iliad and Odyssey at a formative age. Once exposed to such lethal doses of the faraway and the solemn and the strange, he inevitably found his way to Narnia and Middle Earth and Gormenghast and Earthsea and Pern and Britain (but it was Susan Cooper's Britain). He played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons at school and read a lot of serious fantasy at university; despite that, he still managed to make a start on a scholarly career before the chance to become a full-time writer presented itself.

He has lived in London, Oxford and Montréal, but really always in London, where he's now settled with his wife and two children.

Click here to visit the author's official website.

Information about Advent:

A drowning, a magician's curse, and a centuries-old secret.

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.

First in an astonishingly imaginative fantasy trilogy, Advent describes how magic was lost to humanity, and how a fifteen-year-old boy discovers that its return is his inheritance. It begins in a world recognizably our own, and ends an extraordinarily long way from where it started - somewhere much bigger, stranger, and richer.


James Treadwell's Advent is an impressive, mesmerizing and extraordinarily well written debut novel about the return of magic to the world. It's one of the best new fantasy novels published during the last couple of years, because it differs greatly from other new novels in terms of story, style and quality. It's an original and seducingly dark literary fantasy novel.

Here's a bit of information about this novel:

James Treadwell tells two parallel stories in this novel: he writes about Gavin Stokes and Johann Faust. Gavin's chapters take place in the modern world and Faust's chapters take place in the 16th century.

Gavin Stokes is a troubled fifteen-year-old boy. He has problems, because he can see a mysterious Miss Grey, but nobody else can see her. He's learned that it's better to stay silent about her than talk about her to others, because his parents don't like him talking about her. He's been kicked out of school and his parents send him by train to remote Cornwall to visit his Aunt Gwen. During the train ride Gavin meets Hester Lightfoot who appears to be a bit weird. When Gavin finally reaches his destination, he finds out that Aunt Gwen has forgotten to pick him up at the station and gets a ride from Hester to the Pendurra estate where her aunt lives. Soon Gavin meets Tristram Uren and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Marina, who live at the Pendurra estate. He also meets Horace Jia, a Chinese boy, who lives in the village, and Owen Jeffrey who's a priest. Soon Gavin finds out that he isn't the only person who can see things that others can't see. He also notices that his aunt has disappeared and strange things are beginning to happen.

Johann Faust, who is the greatest magus in the world, has made a deal with the spirits about his immortality. In 1537 Faust hurries to a ship with a box that contains a ring (the ring contains all the magic in the world). The ship sinks and the magus is drowned, but it isn't the end of Faust, because he has found a way to come back to life...

James Treadwell has created amazingly realistic teenage characters, because Gavin, Marina and Horace are totally believable characters and the surroundings in which they have lived have shaped and affected them in several ways. The author writes well about them and what happens to them (all three characters find themselves in the middle of the strange happenings).

Gavin is an especially interesting character, because he's haunted by visions of Miss Grey and sees things that others can't see. The author writes fluently about his problems, life and feelings. He's a lonely boy who has learned to be careful in the company of others. He has noticed that it's better not to talk about his dreams and the things he sees to anybody, because nobody understands him. He's like an outsider who has never really fitted in and felt at home.

Marina is also an interesting character, because she lives with her father at the Pendurra estate. She is a bit strange, because she has lived all her life with her father and hasn't left the estate. I enjoyed reading about what the author revealed about her near the end of the book.

The Pendurra estate is a fascinating and wondrous place, because there's a lodge where Gavin's aunt lives and the main house where the Uren family lives. There's also an ancient and mysterious chapel in the woods near the house.

The author has created a menacing and weird atmosphere that pulls the reader into a world where everything isn't black and white, and where evil things may happen to people. He knows how to build tension and create a frightening atmosphere as the dark magic begins to seep back into the world. It's surprising how well the author writes about the happenings and how Gavin finds himself in the middle of the happenings and learns the truth about his family.

Although there are certain familiar and often used elements (e.g. the ring and dreams) in this novel, James Treadwell has created an original and stunningly effective story. I think that everybody who reads this novel will notice that the author is fascinated by fantasy and mythology, and has been influenced by old legends and such authors as Susan Cooper, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

James Treadwell expertly weaves mythology and magic into his story. Readers who begin to read this novel will soon notice that the author has used the legends of Faust and Cassandra, and certain things from the Arthurian legend to create an original and memorable story. I've read a few novels which contain references to these myths and legends, but Advent is one of the few novels in which everything truly works well (the mythological elements capture the reader's imagination as soon as the author begins to write about them).

Reading about the moments between Johann Faust and Cassandra was fascinating. James Treadwell wrote fluently about Cassandra's burden and Faust's fascination with the ring and the temptation of immortality. To be honest, I was impressed by how effortlessly the author wrote about Faust's desires and ambitions.

When I began to read this novel, I immediately noticed that it's a very British fantasy novel and has a wonderful mythic and mysterious quality to it. James Treadwell writes in a captivatingly British way about how the world has lived without magic for five hundred years and what happens when it returns and how Faust returns with it.

I was very impressed by the author's writing style, because he writes beautiful and nuanced prose. His descriptions of the happenings, magic, creatures and characters are wonderful and full of details.

I have to admit that I was amazed that the author was able to change his writing style in the chapters that told about Johann Faust, because only a few authors are capable of writing this kind of prose. The chapters about Faust were heart-breakingly beautiful and tragic. It was interesting that the author had chosen to tell his story from finish to start, because the first chapter told what happened to him and the last chapter told how everything began.

Advent is one of those rare fantasy novels that can be recommended to adults and young adults alike. It speaks to both readerships because of its complex structure and mythological elements. I think that several teenagers will be able to relate to Gavin and his situation, because he feels an outsider, and adults will enjoy reading about Johann Faust and the dark happenings.

I think it's good to mention that Advent is not for hasty readers. One of the best things about this novel is that the author takes his time to develop things and doesn't rush into action. He writes carefully about the characters and introduces them to the readers, and gradually begins to move the story forward by writing about weird happenings and frightening things. Advent is a novel into which you can truly immerse yourself.

James Treadwell is clearly an author to watch, because Advent is a stunningly beautiful debut novel and a truly original take on the Faust legend. He has a gift for storytelling and he uses it well. It's great that the author doesn't underestimate the intelligence of his readers. I respect him for writing a complex fantasy novel that has depth and style in it and allows the reader to think about the happenings.

The story builds steadily towards a spectacular climax and leaves room to explore more things in the sequels. I'll soon read and review Anarchy, which is a sequel to Advent. I have to mention that I'm looking forward to reading it, because I think that the author will continue to amaze and impress his readers with it.

I can highly recommend Advent to readers who want to read good and well written fantasy novels, because it's a brightly shining gem of literary fantasy that manages to combine several different elements from good characterization and everyday life to magical happenings and mythical creatures. I'm sure that readers who have enjoyed reading the fantasy novels of Susanna Clarke, Charles de Lint, Susan Cooper, Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker will love this novel.

Excellent fantasy!