Terrifying as Holly was, as the hell-dog was, terrifying as was his utter ignorance in the face of whatever he was heading towards, none of them were as frightening as the old habitual fear that he’d accidentally made it all up. [location 7565]
First in a trilogy, Advent is firmly rooted in the English fantastic tradition (echoes of Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Robert Holdstock) and in mythology, both British and other. I suppose in a way it's an alternate history (alternate mythology?), where Faust, when Mephistopheles granted him a vision of Helen, fell in love not with her but with another.
Gavin's story opens on the First Great Western train from London to Cornwall (on which I have spent far too much of my life). Recently suspended from school after confiding his visions of a 'Miss Grey' to one of the teachers, Gavin's been sent into exile, to the care of his aunt Gwen. When she's not there to meet him at the station, he accepts a lift from Hester Lightfoot, a middle-aged academic whom he met on the train. Gwen, it turns out, lives on the Pendurra estate, which is also the home of Tristram Uren and his weirdly naive daughter Marina. Gavin has absolutely no idea what to make of Marina, but he mistrusts her friend Horace Jia, who lives in the town across the river. Horace, in turn, is brutally pedestrian, blind to most of the weirdnesses around him and mocking those he can perceive.
In parallel with Gavin's story, Advent recounts the history of an arrogant, immortal magician and his dealings with the supernatural. He too is at Pendurra, and is fascinated by the well in the chapel, the guardian at the gate, the rose that blooms in November -- and with Gavin...
Advent contains some marvellous prose -- such as Holly's alliteration ("I am haled here, cleaved to this tree, and my roots riven earthwards. I am weaker than a word of yours ..." [loc 7611]) -- and several excellent, sustained passages of exposition. I was jarred by the occasional intrusion of an authorial, or at least omniscient, voice: "the sky was more brilliant than anyone alive in Gavin's day could imagine" [loc. 3041]; "things they'd later look back on with helpless nostalgia, as one looks back from the far side of a catastrophe" [loc 8128]. But I found these flaws easy to forgive, because the story is powerful, the characters engaging and (apart from a dry, clunky infodump in the middle of the book) the pacing is excellent if occasionally alarming.
The final chapter leaves Cornwall for Alaska and an Inuit girl, Jen, who's abruptly drawn into the killer-whale dance: I'm looking forward to reading more of her story, and the story of Corbo (who reminds me of nothing as much as a character in Paul Hazel's Finnbranch).
And Advent's end is sheer exuberance:
Light the hearth. Open the door of the house. Let the ancestors in. The world’s coming back! The world, the world!’ [location 8962]