The Seer of Shadows by Avi
Horace Carpetine is an apprentice to MR. Middleditch, self-styled “Society Photographer” in 1872 New York. When forced to deceive a client, the evil Mrs. Von Macht and her husband, Horace finds himself with the ability to bring ghost’s to life through photography. Horace brings to life the angry and vengeful ghost of Eleanora Von Macht, niece of Mr. and Mrs. Von Macht. With the help of Pegg, “sister” of Eleanora Horace must stop the destructive ghost from exacting revenge on those who wronged her in life.
I normally hate ghost stories and mysteries. Why? Because I never seem to understand how the protagonist figures out who did it and how, even though it most usually is clearly laid out for me. That said, I LOVED this book! It was a brilliantly written novel that didn’t shy from including the political, racial and social climates of the time. It is not condescending, which is completely abhorrent in children focused literature, and forces a reader of any age to actively employ their vocabulary. The book is a great late night read. It has just enough suspense to keep the reader going but not so much that you have to put the book down. As an adult I found The Seer of Shadows to be a page-turner. I did not put down the book until I was finished and promptly restarted it.
I only recently began reading Avi and I am so mad at myself for not discovering him earlier. He blends history with good story telling so effortlessly. For example:
“My name is Horace Carpetine. I was born in New York City and spent my youth there. Perfectly happy years they were too, though my childhood occurred during the vast upheaval known as the Civil War. And I can assure you there was nothing civil about that conflict, certainly not in New York City.” (ch.2, para. 1)
It's not everyday that I find myself wanting to learn more about the history of photography!
From the Publisher
Newbery Medalist Avi weaves one of his most suspenseful and scary tales—about a ghost who has to be seen to be believed and must be kept from carrying out a horrifying revenge.
The time is 1872. The place is New York City. Horace Carpetine has been raised to believe in science and rationality. So as apprentice to Enoch Middleditch, a society photographer, he thinks of his trade as a scientific art. But when wealthy society matron Mrs. Frederick Von Macht orders a photographic portrait, strange things begin to happen.
Horace's first real photographs reveal a frightful likeness: it's the image of the Von Machts' dead daughter, Eleanora.
Pegg, the Von Machts' black servant girl, then leads him to the truth about who Eleanora really was and how she actually died. Joined in friendship, Pegg and Horace soon realize that his photographs are evoking both Eleanora's image and her ghost. Eleanora returns, a vengeful wraith intent on punishing those who abused her.
Rich in detail, full of the magic of early photography, here is a story about the shadows, visible and invisible, that are always lurking near.
Newbery Medalist Avi (Crispin: The Cross of Lead) sets this intriguing ghost story in 19th-century New York City, where a photographer's apprentice has a horrifying run-in with a spirit bent on revenge. In the fall of 1872, 14-year-old narrator Horace Carpetine reluctantly becomes involved in his employer's scheme to dupe a superstitious client, wealthy Mrs. Von Macht. The plan is to make a tidy profit by producing a double exposure and offering her an unusual portrait, one incorporating a superimposed image of her dead daughter, Eleanora. Events depart from the expected when the ghost of Eleanora literally enters the picture, and Horace discovers his ability to capture departed souls on film. Suspense builds as the Von Machts' servant, Pegg, reveals secrets about the Von Macht family and explains that Eleanor's angry spirit, brought back into the world through the camera lens, may want revenge on both Mrs. Von Macht and her husband. Mirroring both the style and themes of gothic novels of the period, the story takes ghastly and ghostly turns that challenge Horace's belief in reason. Details about photographic processes add authenticity, while the book's somber ending will leave spines tingling. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)
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