Monday, November 19, 2007

Endymion Spring, by Matthew Skelton

I picked this one up a year ago at the school book festival. It looked intriguing, but apparently not so much that I read it right away.

Endymion Spring is the name of a young man living in Mainz, Germany, in 1453. He is an apprentice to Johann Gutenberg, helping to carve type for the Bible printing project. Herr Gutenberg is approached by the malevolent Johannes Fust, who provides financing for the Bibles in return for an undefined, but unholy, project.

The book switches between 15th Century Germany and modern Oxford, where a young man named Blake Winters is spending part of the year with his scholar mother and his younger sister. The family is on the verge of divorce, and Blake's father has remained in the States. While waiting--once again--for his mother to finish up in the library, Blake finds an old book that seems to have no writing in its pages, until a cryptic poem appears that only he can see. But the book disappears, a shadowy figure begins to follow Blake, and the race is on to solve the mystery of this book.

This is a debut novel, and it falls into an increasingly populated genre of what might be called "library mysteries." Like A.S. Byatt's Possession, or Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, or Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, or even The Club Dumas, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, there is a mystery that only an academic can solve through patient research and a little bit of supernatural intervention.

The strength of this book is not the mystery, involving dragon skin and forbidden knowledge, the characters or the writing. Rather, it is clear that Matthew Skelton has a great love for Oxford, which is lovingly detailed throughout the book. The colleges, the traditions, the architecture, the quality of the light--Oxford is the real star of this book.

It's a YA title, and as such is not ever too scary, nor does it end ambiguously. Blake succeeds in his quest, he retains possession of the elusive book of all knowledge, and the book ends as he opens it to read--raising the possibility of future sequels. I have plenty of quibbles, but slight as the book is, it's probably not worth detailing them.

Not a bad read, and does offer a view of scholarship as a deeply exciting pursuit.