Seer of Shadows (Avi)

Book Reviews
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.
Publishers Weekly

Horace Carpentine is apprenticed to Mr. Middleditch, a photographer who sometimes inserts ghostly images of loved ones to drum up more business from the grief-stricken. When he sends Horace to help him with his latest scam, Horace is shocked to realize that one of his photographs contains the image of Eleanora, a girl who died under mysterious circumstances. Pegg, a servant of Eleanora's parents, claims the girl was murdered. Each photograph Horace takes shows progressively clearer images of the dead girl, but that is not what truly frightens Horace. He has started to see Eleanora even without the use of a camera. Horace and Pegg now need to figure out how to put Eleanora to rest before she destroys her adopted parents who caused her death. In perhaps his best work yet, Avi has created a truly chilling tale that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned and the lights are turned out. —Amie Rose Rotruck
Childrens Literature

A blustery evening calls for a good ghost story, and Newbery medalist Avi offers one thick with spooks and intrigue. In New York City in 1872, a young photographer's assistant, Horace Carpetine, is asked to take a photographic portrait of Mrs. Frederick Von Macht, a society matron. Each photo, though, is marred by a blurred image—that of the woman's dead niece, Eleanora. With the help of a servant girl, Pegg, Horace tries to discover why Eleanora's spirit has returned and how to help her find rest. Avi enriches his suspenseful tale with well-researched historic details, information about the science and art of early photography and an elegant writing style. —Mary Quattlebaum
Children's Literature

Articulate, literate, and numerate, fourteen-year-old Horace is touted as "a model youth for the industrial age" by his philosophical, abolitionist, and radical-Republican father whose children are named for political and social icons of the time. A watch repairman who believes in science and rational thought, Horace's father arranges his youngest son's apprenticeship during post-Civil War New York City in a scientific endeavor with Enoch Middleditch, self-proclaimed society photographer, whose excellent teaching is offset by his laziness and struggling business. Middleditch turns on flattery and charm and eagerly defrauds patrons for financial gain. Unwillingly Horace becomes entangled in a fraudulent scheme to present a rich woman with photographic "evidence" that her daughter's ghost lingers nearby. Youthful honesty contrasted against adults' deceptive flatteries builds reader empathy for narrator Horace's position when Middleditch's hoax paired with Horace's heretofore-unknown photographic sensitivity unintentionally unleash an angry ghost upon the Von Macht household. Horace's resourcefulness and his new friendship with the Von Macht's black servant Pegg are key to solving this suspenseful drama. Avi's rich language evokes images and speech patterns of a bygone era, and his careful chronicling of early photography's art and science make this novel a pleasure to read. Strong male and female teen characters appeal to a broad readership from science fiction, suspense, and ghost story aficionados to photography and history buffs. The refined vocabulary will not deter reluctant readers. —Cynthia Winfield

Horace is a 14-year-old photographer’s apprentice in New York City in 1872, and his ambitious and dishonest boss has just received a new commission. A society woman wants a photograph of herself to put on her dead daughter Eleanora’s grave, she says, though her reasons are not as sentimental as they first seem. The photographer plans to add a ghostly image of the girl to the portrait (this was possible even pre-Photoshop!), to make it special and ensure more commissions, he hopes. He assigns Horace to secretly take photos of the images of Eleanora in the woman’s home for this purpose, but Horace’s photos unexpectedly do more than that: they conjure up the actual ghost of the girl, who is out for revenge. According to Pegg, an African American servant girl in the household who befriends Horace, Eleanora was the woman’s niece, not her daughter. Eleanora was valued only for her inheritance, and cruelly neglected until she died. Together, Horace and Pegg must figure out how to thwart the murderous ghost’s plans for vengeance. This spooky tale by the author of Crispin and many other books for young readers captures the era nicely. There are lots of details about photography as well as information about the racism of the time, and Horace’s transition from proudly logical young man to believer in spirits is credible. This ghost story isn’t too creepy for middle school readers, and it works well as a historical novel, too. —Paula Rohrlick

In 1870s New York, at the intersection of scientific advances in photography and post-Civil War superstition, sentimentality and mourning, Horace's father apprentices him to a spirit photographer. He discovers that, while his employer is a swindler, Horace himself is a "seer" on whose photographs genuine ghostly images appear. In this way, he discovers the ghost of a young heiress whose ill treatment at the hands of her adoptive parents has led to her death. When her angry spirit returns seeking revenge, Horace tries to put her ghost to rest and save lives. Avi portrays a complex main character who is torn between his impulse toward honesty and rational thought, his love of the new technology of photography and his need for employment. This tale proves that the time-honored ghost story, capably researched, well-paced and fusing the Gothic elements of mystery, madness and romance, can still thrill in the hands of a skilled craftsman.
Kirkus Reviews

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