The Books of My Numberless Dreams

At the start of Endymion Spring

Posted on: December 26, 2006

Things are going at a very predictable pace. I usually feel my brain shift to a lower gear when I begin a YA fantasy, which is fine. A simpler prose does not necessarily signify a stupid, disposable story. I shift gears when reading Diana Wynne Jones, for example, but her books are at turns exciting, captivating, hilarious and sophisticated. You know? She may not be M.T. Anderson but she has her own thing going.

If Mr. Matthew Skelton has his own “thing” he is hiding it under a luxuriant bushel. Reading I find myself mentally ticking off the Typical YA fantasy features:

1. Mysterious opening on dark stormy night with as yet unknown characters travelling with Important Artifact at centre of story? Check.

2. Villainous figure (bordering on the cartoonish here) striking deal with basically good but weak, cornered character? Check.

3.Good but weak figure with young fellow as his orphaned relative/squire/rescued street urchin? Check

4. Bookish theme for all you bibliophilic kids out there! (And if you’re not you will be by the end of this story as the author will do everything in his power to show you that Books Are Awesome in the most transparent manner possible. Expect lots of scenes in libraries with awesome interiors and sweet motherish librarians. )

5. To continue this idea the novel’s setting will be a in a university and, since it’s in England, it will have to be Oxford or Cambridge. I’m fairly sure those are the only tertiary institutions the UK has anyway. Poor thing.

Sigh. So, the story. The setting shifts between 15th century Germany and 21st century England. In the past we have a mute street urchin rescued by good ol’ Gutenberg and hired as an apprentice in his workshop. Of course he is working on his printing press, planning to print the Bible and anxious about his dwindling funds. Who should barge into his domain in the middle of the night but the wealthy, greedy, villainous Johann Fust (DUM DUM DUUUUUUM), with a hireling who carries a mysterious, ornate chest covered in devilish, demonic carvings and flourishes, an aura of doom hovering over its very presence. It calls the Mute Street Ur–oh sorry, his name is Endymion Spring (!!)–, it whispers to him. “Open me!”

Anyway so kid doesn’t like Faust who treats him contemptuously (but eyes him carefully!) and coerces his master into a devil’s bargain.

Blah blah, story shifts into the present with the unassuming Blake. Blake Winters is a boy of undetermined years (13 maybe? who knows, who cares) saddled with an annoyingly bright sister named Duck and a negligent mother, Dr. Juliet Winters who is a professor. His parents’ marriage is on the rocks, so the mother takes advantage of Blake’s lacklustre school performance to suggest he take a break and accompany her, along with Duck, on her research trip to Oxford; she would school him. (There is no explanation as to why Duck must miss school.) During one of the teaching sessions in which she blabs to a librarian while he touches shelved books and Duck clambers around in the library one of the books attacks him. Oh no! A bit of blood drips from his finger. But how could that be? Books don’t move. But lo! There it is on the floor. It must have accidentally fallen out. See here but all the pages are blank! Why, that’s odd…oh, see there, faintly, letters are visible on the thin soft paper. Let me share this godawful rhyme with you.

When Summer and Winter in Autumn divide
The Sun will uncover a Secret inside.
Should Winter from Summer irrevocably part
The Whole of the Book will fall quickly apart.
Yet if the Seasons join Hands Together
The Order of Things will last forever.
These are the Words of Endymion Spring
Bring only the Insight the Inside brings.

(Ugh. I have no idea why so many words are capitalised. Maybe it was a 15th century thing. Why can’t Skelton use Donne as Jones did? Say what you will about Tolkien’s poetry skills he never wrote anything this ungainly.)

After reading that horrible bit of literature Blake has the good sense to replace the book on the shelf, but not before the annoyingly bright Duck (she reads, you see! Blake doesn’t) notices the curiously blank pages. (She cannot see the horrible rhyme! Being intelligent has some benefits.)

The book has its charms. For one thing the simpler prose allows one to read briskly. To my surprise I had already reached pg 73–I should get through this 400+ book in no time. More seriously the incorporation of Gutenberg and Fust into the story appeals to me, superceding even the dark, ominous chest as points of interest. The use of Oxford as a setting isn’t blandly predictable: the distinctive, gothic architecture is very atmospheric. Blake is not a ‘natural reader’ according to his mother so that’s one “twist” on the cliche I suppose. If only I did not fear that by the end of the book our Blake will learn the power and adventures of the written word, ace his ACT and grow up to become an independent bookstore owner in an artsy Manhattan corner. I guess that writing a novel is heaps more gratifying than creating a “A Reader is a Future Leader of Tomorrow” poster and handing out copies at the playground.

The book is just so…boring; my eyelids droop as I read. Shriek: An Afterword is looking evermore scrumptious, as is The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu or Skellig by David Almond. The Skellig, by the way, based on a quick skim, is a perfect example of a book with simple prose–I would definitely place it at a reading level below Endymion Spring–that has a story and characters far more engaging and rewarding. I had to force myself to not read the whole thing at the store. Almond has that “thing” Skelton. Find yours before I barter you at a used bookstore.

P.S. That cat in the library thing was very unique, Skelton. Mephistopheles. What a good name! Very subtle.

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8 Responses to "At the start of Endymion Spring"

Ungainly: perhaps he should have written in that interesting form, “skeltonics,” like his perhaps-ancestor, John Skelton.

I’m starting to believe I have literary genie of some sort. I first heard about John Skelton a few weeks ago in the TLS. His poetry sounded intimidating–but no doubt better than what I’ve had to enjoy. I have had to read two more awful “riddles”. 😦

My daughter asked for this book for Christmas. I was hoping to hear a better review. Oh well, maybe there will be some redeeming qualites. If she learns a little more about Gutenberg, the read may be worth it.

Oh, I would still buy it for her booklogged because I have the feeling I am in the small minority on this book. As I plan to post later, the story has improved–it’s actually had some exciting moments–and themes and motifs are being better developed. For me, though, that raised the book to “Not bad–has it’s moments!” from “Utter bore”.

Everyone else seems to love it. That’s why I got it in the first place. Oh, and your daughter will learn some of the history surrounding Gutenberg.

YA books were where it was at for fantasy for a while following the whole Potter thing. Partly the prospect of money made publishers more open, but mainly as there are severly reduced opportunities for scantily clad female warriors/ slave girls/ mystic princeses/ etc to drive the (cough) plot in this genre.

Have you read the Bartimaus (that’s probably not splet right) trilogy by a chap called Jonathon Stroud?

Sad it seems like it’s on the wane – we can only hope the book makes a triumphant finish. I have to say that so far I am not sufficiently put off…

I love Diana Wynne Jones, by the way. I was, in fact, devestated that my Dad, who can usually be relied upon here, had not laid in a copy of her new book ready for me to read during our Xmas visit…

That’s exactly why I stuck to YA fantasy so closely over the adult stuff. To be truthful I didn’t explore adult fantasy much beyond Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay (actually that’s it) because all those princesses soulfully gazing over cliffs or buxom warrior elves strapped up on the covers were clear enough Do Not Read Me signs.

I have not read that impossibly spelt trilogy yet although I know about it. I am wary of the hyped titles especially those that cropped up (so it seemed) right after Harry Potter. I hope it ends on the up and up for you. I can forgive a book many things if it ends well.

Happy to meet another Jones fan! I haven’t read any of her books in a while though I don’t worry about it. She’s written so many, it comforts me knowing I have so many good books to look forward to.

Oh. The it’s not doing too well comment was about your book. The Stroud thing was pretty good all the way though, as it goes. I meant that as a good eg!

Oh! D’oh. Well Endymion could certainly use your help so thank you.

So Stroud is a good example? I may check him out today.

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