** spoiler alert **
The first half of Advent is terrific: a young man, cursed or blessed with a kind of second sight all his life, is sent off to the country to spend a week with his eccentric aunt. When he arrives, she isn't there, and he stumbles from one encounter to the next, each increasingly bizarre. The early chapters pay homage to such past children's fantasy classics as the Box of Delights and the Chronicles of Narnia, while building a much more adult-oriented plot around Arthurian legends and the story of Dr. Faustus. Treadwell makes Gavin Stokes a believable character, and layers the tension incrementally, broken only occasionally by descriptions of the magically beautiful rural landscape where most of the story unfolds. The narrative structure -- story moving forward in the present while moving backwards in the past -- adds to the suspense.
Unfortunately, from about halfway through, the story runs downhill. Treadwell steps away from the third-person limited point of view, switching to multiple characters and omniscient views, a choice that shatters the subjective sense of unease and mystery constructed so carefully in the book's first half. The moments of transcendent beauty stop, and the plot steams along through unrelieved and increasingly apocalyptic gloom - except it doesn't actually feel like the end of the world, just a really dreary, cold day. The characters interact mechanically: A, B, and C chance upon each other and fight; A escapes and runs into D; B dies in the snow; D meets C and E, and so on. Coincidences and (bad) luck are freely deployed to get everyone to their scenes on time. By the end of the book, the plots all reach their tragic or other conclusions, but perversely, the magic has drained out of the reading long before then.