Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Matthew Skelton

Endymion Spring
by Matthew Skelton
Recommended Age: 12+

This book was one of my rare hardcover purchases — not because I couldn’t bear to wait for the paperback, so much as that the B. Dalton Bookseller a few blocks from where I live was going out of business and everything was 40% off. Which gives me an excuse to say “Boo, Hiss” to Barnes & Noble for closing down their little neighborhood B. Dalton stores. I am proud to say there isn’t a Barnes & Noble megastore in the city of St. Louis, but my pride is slightly qualified by annoyance at no longer having a bookstore within walking distance of home. How these store-closings are supposed to raise B&N’s profit margin is a mystery to me. I did a lot of impulse book-buying when a B. Dalton stood between my favorite grocery store and one of my favorite restaurants; I only visit Barnes & Noble when I really have to. But if I go on about it any longer, I’ll forget to review the book!

Endymion Spring is a person, and it is a book. Within the book, I mean. Aargh, this is going to be hard. All right: Endymion Spring is a book about a book, also titled Endymion Spring, which originally belonged to a little fellow named, well, Endymion Spring. By little fellow I mean a mute boy in Mainz, Germany, in the year 1452. Taken in by the legendary printer Johann Gutenberg, he witnessed the invention of movable type. But another player in Gutenberg’s shop was a wicked man named Fust, possibly the inspiration for the tale of Faust, who has obtained a quantity of very special paper, from which he hopes to make a book that will tell him all the secrets in the world. Endymion Spring runs away with Fust’s book, fleeing to the one library in Europe that can hide the book and the knowledge it contains: the one at Oxford University.

Fast-forward to the present day, where a lonely American boy named Blake discovers a book that appears blank to everyone except himself. Blake is at Oxford while his mother does some research, and between her preoccupation and his attention-hogging, gifted younger sister Duck, he doesn’t get noticed much. He spends most of his time moping around, missing his father and wondering if his parents’ marriage is over. Then the mysterious book of Endymion Spring reveals itself to him, challenging him with a riddle — or a prophecy — or both. The book draws him into a dangerous adventure, dangerous because a certain evil grown-up wants the book for very sinister reasons; dangerous because an innocent child’s blood may be the key to open a world of secret knowledge to anyone ruthless enough to offer it.

The only weakness I could find in this book, and it may be owing to first-time-novelitis, is an occasional tendency to describe something in such a consciously unexpected way that the reader has to pause, scratch his head, and figure out what he means before going on. For example: “His eyes roamed around the workshop, knocking over tables and equipment, until they settled on...” Excuse me? His eyes knocked things over? It is such an odd thing to say that one wonders whether it is an eccentric figure of speech by a first-time artist trying to find his individual voice, or whether it is a mistake that shouldn’t have gotten past the editor.

Anything is possible; for this is the first novel by Matthew Skelton, a library and printing expert who, like Blake, divided his childhood between both sides of the Atlantic. And except for that handful of awkward moments, he does very well, weaving a fascinating realm of historical research into a story that unfolds in two time periods, over 500 years apart. It is a story that stimulates the gray matter while it also thrills and entertains. Overall it is a very successful tale. I look forward to seeing Skelton develop his skills further.

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