Every now and then I glance at a list of fiction titles for kids and young adults hoping to pluck out something interesting. That’s how I ended up reading Matthew Skelton’s Endymion Spring [LibraryThing / WorldCat] during a few rainy evenings last week.
The premise was intriguing. Skelton ran two stories in parallel: one in 15th century Germany involving a young apprentice to Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press; the other following two modern-day adolescents visiting Oxford while their mother researches some scholarly topic. The two stories relate, of course. Blake, the boy in the modern half, and his sister Duck (Yep. Her name is Duck.) stumble upon a mysterious blank book (named Endymion Spring) on the dusty shelves of the library. Its magical qualities and curiously strong attraction stirs up a commotion among the excessively bookish characters on campus.
As the kids scramble to solve the riddle at Oxford, the young German apprentice in other other narrative lives out the book’s origin 450 years earlier. The apprentice (also named Endymion Spring) learns about a magical dragon-skin paper and undertakes a mission to keep it from his master’s chief investor, the evil Johann Fust. Fust, incidentally, was a real person. He put up the money for Gutenberg’s printing press but later sued the inventor for the equipment and any possible profits.
Skelton’s writing is sometimes wonderful. His descriptions of Oxford, the dusty old bookshelves of the Bodleian Library, and the medieval town of Mainz are vivid. I especially enjoyed the jumbled chase scene where young Endymion attempts to escape from Fust during a crowded town festival.
As enjoyable as most of the book was, it seemed to fall flat at the end. Maybe that was just me. I’m ‘mostly non-fiction’ after all. The book has been popular. There might be enough magic and mystery in the book to carry young adults to the finish.