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Endymion Spring    by Matthew Skelton order for
Endymion Spring
by Matthew Skelton
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The story of Endymion Spring moves back and forth in time, from modern Oxford to 1450s Mainz, Germany where Johann Gutenberg designed and built the first printing press. The protagonists are two boys - Blake is a dreamer, the son of American academic Juliet Winters, who's at Saint James College for one term - having left her husband Christopher behind after the Day of the Big Argument - while mute Endymion is a printer's devil, an apprentice assisting Herr Gutenberg to print the first mass-produced Bibles.

In 1452 Mainz, Peter drags a sledge through the snow behind his Master, the sinister Johann Fust, having first tramped from Paris to Strasbourg before heading to this city. On the sledge is a shadowy casket, covered in monsters and demons, with two metal snakes coiled tightly around the lid. Fust offers Gutenberg gold (that he badly needs to fulfill his dreams) for his assistance. Fust uses Gutenberg's workrooms for his own project, involving a stolen magical parchment made from a rare Leafdragon's skin. Fust hopes to make from it a book that carries 'the secrets of eternal wisdom', secrets he intends to exploit for no good purpose. Endymion takes the paper and makes it into his own booklet, later fleeing from Fust (with Peter's help) to hide the book in a new library in Oxford.

In the modern day, Blake, an ordinary boy who's not - unlike his brilliant young sister Duck - a very good reader, finds a book (with Endymion Spring on the leather cover) while browsing in St. Jerome's College Library. It contains 'only a series of blank pages that led like a spiral staircase into the unknown.' Then words are revealed, riddles - and later spooky warnings - that only Blake can see. A mystery unfolds, with further puzzles to solve. A variety of suspicious characters (many with past links to Blake's parents) show an unusual interest in the boy's activities. They include members of the Ex Libris Society and an intriguing homeless man with a clever dog. The puzzle is solved after Blake makes a discovery in a library deep underground and faces the villain.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the Oxford context, as well as the connection of the mystery to old books, the Faust legend and Gutenberg's life and work. Matthew Skelton ends with a Historical Note on his own research on the first printing press at the Bodleian Library, when ideas gelled and 'as if by magic, words started appearing on a blank sheet of paper.'

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