Monday, July 11, 2016

Endymion Spring (Matthew Skelton)

Endymion Spring
Matthew Skelton
Delacorte Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Oxford is full of libraries and books, a centuries-old repository of learning and a veritable magnet for scholars of all stripes and ages. Blake Winters wants no part of it... especially not when his father's back home in America while his mother pursues her career with her typical single-minded zeal. His kid sister Duck (so nicknamed for the raincoat she always wears), a genius who makes his academic record look even poorer than it is, only makes his situation more miserable. He figures his stay in Oxford will be nothing but dreary days and loneliness... until he finds the strange book in the library, an old leather-bound volume whose blank pages show words only he can see. Suddenly, the unscholarly Blake is swept up in the tale of a magical book with a long, dark history of corruption and blood, a book that has ruined countless lives, and for which someone in modern-day Oxford is willing to kill.

REVIEW: The concept looked interesting (not to mention the price at the warehouse sale), so I figured it was worth a shot. Skelton clearly loves Oxford and books, sparing few words as he waxes poetic about both. At some point, it passes from intriguing detail to dull background noise. Blake isn't a particularly dynamic character, for all that we're stuck following him for half the book. Most of the time he does nothing, or does the exact wrong thing; the only times things go right are when events walk up to him prepackaged with a bow. But, then, this book has a strong religious subtext, with heavy doses of Destiny and Divine Will. The mysterious book everyone is willing to kill for apparently came from the skin of a dragon as old as the earth, containing all wisdom of all time, and generic sin is an acceptable reason most people can't open it, let alone read it. So what makes Blake special? It's just a matter of being "chosen", by the book or by divine powers... in which case, there's not much suspense, since the book - having access to all wisdom as it does - would be unlikely to choose someone who wouldn't win in the end, even if they have to be led around by the nose, drug by the arm, and pushed from behind towards the final confrontation. Enemies are flat, evil cutouts, with no motivations beyond simple selfish greed (which is typical for religious-themed young adult fiction, in my limited reading experience.) Sections of Endymion Spring flash back to 1400's Germany, where the mute Endymion Spring, apprentice to the famed Gutenberg, first encounters the dragon-skin and the schemes of the diabolical Fust, who invests in Gutenberg's new printing press for nefarious reasons. These flashbacks feel drawn out and often listless, not unlike Blake's part of the story. Add in a number of other minor irritations (Blake referring to his parents by their first and last names, drifting point of view at several spots, a tangle of overwhelmingly-male peripheral characters who ultimately turn into red herrings, and so forth), and the end result is an unfortunately bland read. If you're already an enthusiast of book history and scholarly mysteries and the allure of Oxford, you'll likely enjoy this book. If not, this tome is unlikely to spark that interest.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Inkheart (Cornelia Funke) - My Review
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines) - My Review
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup) - My Review

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